Bakushû [Early Summer]

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #240: Yasujiro Ozu’s Early Summer.


As con­tem­po­rary dra­mas go, Ozu’s Early Summer man­ages to se­lect is­sues that are both time­less and prac­ti­cal in the in­stant of their gen­e­sis. It is at once a story of post-war Japan and fam­ily cri­sis, and a chance to ex­am­ine both rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and res­ig­na­tion to the al­ter­ing sta­tus quo. [Can you tell I’m try­ing to sound as pompous as pos­si­ble?]

Ozu’s vi­sion of post­war Japan is a good ful­crum for com­par­ing Japanese cin­ema that fo­cuses on the tra­di­tional lifestyle, and that which takes rapidly as­sim­i­lated Western cul­ture as its fo­cus. In this film, women in tra­di­tional garb visit mod­ern of­fices and sit in chairs and white-coated doc­tors of in­ter­nal med­i­cine come home to pa­per walls and ex­tended fam­ily. Lanes are still made of dirt, but women ride the train into Tokyo to earn their pay­checks. It is the chang­ing role of women, and their im­me­di­ate and con­fi­dent em­brace of op­por­tu­nity [at least in the film’s world] that ends up caus­ing the rel­a­tively mi­nor prob­lem that loosely serves as the plot.

Three gen­er­a­tions of the Mamiya fam­ily live in the same house, a not un­com­mon set-up in tra­di­tional Japan. Noriko, how­ever, is the un­tra­di­tional fam­ily mem­ber. At twenty-eight, she re­mains hap­pily un­mar­ried. Everyone, in­clud­ing her boss, wants to get her hitched. They fo­cus on men who have good prospects, not wor­ry­ing about love in the slight­est. The match-mak­ing is meant to im­prove the family’s lot, any hap­pi­ness would be a mere bypro­duct. Noriko, mainly through her si­lence, is po­lite but un­will­ing to com­mit to mar­ry­ing a man her boss has rec­om­mended to her. Despite all of this, her fam­ily acts as if she is al­ready as good as mar­ried, and there is a pal­pa­ble sense of re­lief. Then, Noriko chooses to marry a wid­ower with a child, a man who also has good prospects and is her child­hood friend. She doesn’t ad­mit that she is in love, but she says she knows Yabe well enough that she can trust him all her life.

The fam­ily doesn’t like the fact that she made this choice with­out con­sult­ing them, nor do they like that Noriko will have to move to Akita. Noriko’s par­ents had promised Uncle that they would move to Yamato when Noriko mar­ried. Through her own de­ci­sion for mar­riage, some­thing all wanted for her, she scat­ters the fam­ily. Yet de­spite all of this anger and poignancy, the love of the fam­ily sus­tains. The grand­fa­ther is re­signed to the changes but thank­ful for the hap­pi­ness he’s had, Koichi is fo­cused on his doc­torly am­bi­tions, and Noriko fully em­braces the new world that is open­ing for her. They all know the changes are in­evitable.

I have to say that I re­ally like Ozu’s style. Apparently he only used two height se­tups for his cam­era on a tripod, and cam­era move­ment is al­most nonex­is­tent, and serves more as a end-of-scene flour­ish and segue than as any­thing else. Since he only uses two heights, the fram­ing of his shots is de­ter­mined only by the dis­tance he puts the cam­era from the ac­tion. Cuts in re­tain the same height but al­ter the frame sig­nif­i­cantly, nonethe­less. He also likes to hold shots af­ter the scene is ended to al­low a brief mo­ment of palate cleans­ing be­fore the next ac­tion be­gins. I’m quite in­ter­ested in watch­ing more by Ozu.


Criterion Essay by David Bordwell
Jim Jarmusch on Ozu [from Art Forum mag­a­zine]
An Ozu fan page

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