Friday, July 16, 2010

Ozu's "Early Summer"

"Early Summer" is a 1951 black-and-white film directed by Yasujiro Ozu, another one of the master's films that The Criterion Collection has released on DVD. I am finding Ozu's films fascinating for their portrayal of what seems to be ordinary Japanese life.

"Early Summer" [the Japanese title is "Bakushu" which my dictionary defines as "the time of the barley harvest (in early summer)"] is set in Kamakura and Tokyo. The Miyama family—the two parents; their married son, his wife, and their two young boys; and their unmarried 28-year-old daughter Noriko—all live in a big house in Kamakura. The movie might have been called "What Should We Do About Noriko?"

The family is concerned about her unmarried state. She works in an office in Tokyo and is not particularly interested in marriage--especially given the experiences of her married girl friends. Her boss wants to set her up with a 40-year-old bachelor; her brother bullies her emotionally to get married. In the end, Noriko makes her own choice of whom she'll marry, not for love but to satisfy the social pressures and because it seems like the best alternative available to her. Men work; women stay home and raise the children. An unmarried woman is unnatural.

Interestingly, the film is set five or six years after the war. The American Occupation still exists, but no one refers to it. (In one quick shot from a Tokyo office building window, the camera may have caught a jeep carrying GIs.) There is almost no indication of how the war affected the people in the film except that the Mayima family mourns a son who vanished into the war.

Warning: The movie is slow. The camera seldom moves. There is very little "dramatic action." But I have the sense that this is what these people would have lived like, talked like, dressed like, worked like, played like at this time in this place. It is the drama of ordinary life, and all the more powerful by being so.