22 September 2003 | Dilip
Superb understated and subtle cinematography, beaming and lovely main character, Ozu transforms what might be a moderately interesting peek into a family's life into a rich and delightful film
I am writing this minutes after I finished watching this lovely 1951 film on video, "Bakushu" ("Early Summer"). It is my first introduction to the work of Yasujiro Ozu, who directed and co-wrote the film. Ozu (b.1903, d.1963), who directed over 50 films from the 1920s-1960s, is probably most famous for his film "Tokyo Monogatari" ("Tokyo Story") of 1953, which is cited by some film critics as one of the ten best films made.
"Early Summer" is the second of three films in which Setsuko Hara plays an unmarried young woman, aged 28 in "Bakushu", named Noriko (also in Ozu's 1949 "Banshun" or "Late Spring", and in "Tokyo Story"). Her always beaming and confident smile, mischievous but loving laughter, and unselfish and loving manner are a constant joy to experience - she's the kind of person anybody would love to have as a friend. Noriko lives in post-WW II Tokyo as part of an extended family of her parents along her somewhat stern brother (a doctor) and his warm wife and their two spoiled young sons, aged approximately 3 and 6. The family partially depends on her income as an office clerk of sorts.
The central theme is the family's concern that carefree Noriko is unmarried. A proposal comes in from a man twelve years her senior; the family feels this is a great opportunity that they hope she will respond positively to. How she takes all this in stride and works through the gentle pressure of getting married is the plot of the film, but the understated, low-key and low-angle camera shots make what might otherwise be an unexceptional story sweetly captivating and delightful.
I am reminded in this film of my favorite director, Satyajit Ray. Like Ray, at least in "Bakushu", Ozu very effectively uses minimal dialogue, little or no music, and subtlety to draw the viewer into the setting and paint a realistic picture of everyday life.
I felt instant connection with Setsuko Hara as vivacious and indomitable Noriko. Her brother, Koichi (Chishu Ryu) was impeneterably unemotional, probably stereotypically so. Koichi's wife, Aya Tamura (Chikage Awashima) seemed a tamer version of Noriko, almost like an older sister from the same roots. The parents Shukichi Mamiya (Ichiro Sugai) and his wife Shige (Chieko Higashiyama) were realistically portrayed as being content in fulfilling their familial responsibilities, and provided an even emotional keel.
If this is at all typical of Yasujiro Ozu's films, then I am anxious to seek out and start to enjoy his many other creations. The film moves at life's pace, but Ozu transforms what might be a moderately interesting peek into one family's life into a rich and delightful tapestry.
--Dilip Barman Sept. 21, 2003