Early Summer VHS
A masterpiece fit to stand beside Tokyo Story, Early Summer is quintessential Ozu. Unique among all filmmakers, he developed his own beautifully restrained style by positioning his camera three feet above the floor and rejecting such techni
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At the time of its making, 1951, arranged marriages were still very common in Japan, and often successful. As late as the Studio Ghibli Omoide Poro Poro of 1991 there is an echo of a famous scene in Early Summer - when a rural grandmother explicitly suggests to a visiting city girl that she should marry her grandson (finally she does). In Early Summer itself, the mother of a widower neighbour tells Noriko that she had a 'dream' that Noriko might marry her son - to which a deeply moved Noriko says "You'd have me?" - the widowed son is never consulted, his mother simply announcing it will happen!
But there are many more strands in Early Summer - ranging from the high cost of strawberry cake and household economies, to the breaking up of families. As always in Ozu, the 'big' events such as weddings happen off screen - though Early Summer ends with the parents moving to a farmhouse near Nara (in 'Yamato') where in the closing scene they watch a wedding party thread their way through the fields...
I am aware that Ozu's "Tokyo Story" is rated among the 10 greatest films by a London-based group of film critics. I do believe "Tokyo Story" (Tokyo Monogatari) is certainly one of the world's greatest. But for my personal tastes, "Early Summer", ranks higher. Ozu once said he did not wish to make films which were conventional in their plots. In fact it seems he rated the concept of "plot" as Westerners view it, fairly low in value. As do I. "Early Summer" then is the best example I know of a movie that does very little in terms of action. There are no chase scenes, no love scenes (by American standards) and no obvious tension. For this reason I believe it is Ozu's masterpiece, it requires one to pay attention to everyday life. And it rewards that consummate attention with timeless beauty, dare I say Love for life, whether lived in Japan in the 1950's or today. You can see the documentaries about Ozu's no-cut filming, low camera angles, and such....but until you experience the peace of his story telling, the interpolations of sky, clouds, the almost total lack of soundtrack, then you know little about sitting quietly watching trees blow in the wind either.
The "trancendent moment" here is the future mother-in-law arranging the marriage directly with Noriko. She regains her social position, makes her family whole, makes a mother for her grandaughter and a wife for her still greiving son, by breaking through the codes of politeness and indirectness.
It is a moment of modernity in a culture caught in-between. It is a moment of total change for perhaps a dozen people, but it is not a crisis or a catharsis - just the opposite.
Films do not have to Thrill and Manipulate (E.T. anyone?) to have a lasting profound effect on your life. Some great art is almost invisible......
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Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Rating = ***
Film = barely three (3) stars; subtitles = two (2) stars; restoration =...Read more