Yasujiro Ozu's EARLY SUMMER
Movie review by Dennis D. McDonald
In this Japanese film from 1951, 28-year-old Noriko (played by Setsuko Hara, who also appeared in Ozu’s Tokyo Story) lives with her three-generation family. She helps support them with the wages she earns in her downtown Tokyo clerical office job. Her family decides that she is getting along in years and needs to get married. The wheels of an arranged marriage start turning. This leads to complications.
That’s the story. Director Ozu elevates it to high art through a combination of nuance, subtlety, beautiful acting, andmasterful camera work and editing. This is a movie about a Japanese family, but the realities of family life, aging, youth, and the bittersweet nature of life all are combined into a level of truth and universality that is very rare in any cinema. This film tugs at your heart in a way that is real, not mawkish or melodramatic. The routines of daily life, however Japanese, are instantly recognizable, from the children resisting washing their faces before dinner, to the elders escaping from the home when children descend on it for an afternoon party.
The phrase that come to mind when I think about the overall style and look of this film is “simply elegant.” There is nothing shiny or artificial here; everything rings true. Yet it is all so familiar that we can almost imagine that, were the dice thrown a different way and another family chosen by Ozu for exploration of a common situations, we would see a different story told with the same elegant subtlety, the same care and attention to detail, the same recognizable reality.
Setsuko Hara is radiant in this film. She plays a giving, loving, and devoted character, but she does not overplay. Noriko is so self-effacing at times that you want to grab her by the shoulders, shake her, and yell, “Stop sacrificing yourself! Do what’s best for you!”
Copyright (c) 2005 by Dennis D. McDonald