Bakushû [Early Summer]

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

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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.

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

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