English Title: Early Summer
Original Title: Bakushû
Director: Yasujirô Ozu
Music: Senji Itô
Cinematography: Yûharu Atsuta
My second foray into Ozu’s canon, EARLY SUMMER is two years prior to TOKYO STORY (1953), the story customarily hinges on an extended household of Mamiya with Ozu’s homegrown cast, and its material can be readily read as a prequel of TOKYO STORY with small identity and cast tweaks.
Shukichi (Sugai) and Shige Mamiya (Higashiyama) are an elderly couple living in their suburban home near Tokyo along with the family of their eldest son Koichi (Ryû, who would in two years, take Sugai’s mantra to play the husband of Higashiyama in TOKYO STORY), a physician who is married to Fumiko (Miyake) and they have two young boys, also living under the same roof is Koichi’s unmarried sister Noriko (Setsuko Hora, who passed away merely last year at the venerable age of 95), who takes the centre stage in the story, since her marriage prospect will inevitably change the status quo of this harmonious family.
Noriko is 28 years old, chirpily enjoys her bachelorette days, she works as an office secretary of Mr. Satake (Sano), and is thick as thieves with her unmarried school-days friend Aya (Awashima). At home, she is in good rapport with everyone, Fumiko especially. Apparently, it is the best time of the family, as Shukichi sighs with a dash of melancholy (they have another son, who has been presumably missing in the war).
Mr. Satake recommend a promising 40-year-old bachelor businessman to Noriko as her potential husband-to-be, she equivocates, but the family is motivated, Koichi begins to do some background research of the candidate, which turns out quite satisfactory in his view, but Shige holds her reserve about their age difference, and it ruffles Koichi’s feathers, in his defence, Noriko is not a young maiden anymore, she shouldn’t be too picky either (a reactionary bias on women, still today). A discord is nimbly instigated but the irony is, Noriko doesn’t even have the intention to meet the hopeful at the first place, and before soon she will shock and disappoint the family with her own choice of her future husband, which suggests a lot of hardship is in the offing for her.
Even for an Ozu novice like myself, it is not difficult to discern his salient exercise of narrative lacunae, whether it is the conversation between their neighbour Tami (Sugimura) and Shige about a private detective asking about Noriko, interrupted by Shukichi’s emergence and never resumes itself, or a clear shot of the said hopeful in person when Noriko and Aya are emboldened for a playful peep, even Noriko’s marriage ceremony, has never be shown directly on the screen. Ozu is a master of eliding hectic actions and prefers using words, even small talks to fill the missing pages, an expedient move to facilitate the shooting and preserve his stationary style, yet, the story never slumps into monotony, all owing to the industriously composed script inundated with insightful rumination and realistic precision, penned by Ozu and his long-time collaborator Kôgo Noda.
Setsuko Hara, is forever enthralling in her good-natured etiquette and photogenic effervescence, she is the ultimate screen emblem of oriental warmth and optimism, even in the single-ladies-vs.-married-women bickering, she radiates benevolence without betraying any grudge. Here, her Noriko also epitomises a modern, more independent image of a younger generation of Japanese women after WWII, no longer curbed by family persuasion, extraneous influence or social pressure, they learn to be in the driver’s seat in their own lanes.
Chishû Ryû, plays the peer of Hara, and Haruko Sugimura, plays her elder here, both would switch their social hierarchy in TOKYO STORY, an undeniable testimony of their uncanny and fluid versatility, along with a studious supporting cast dutifully verbalises their dialogues verbatim and gestures to a nicety. Elucidating eloquently Ozu’s thematic concerns of social and familial changeover, individual awakening and humane poetry, EARLY SUMMER, is without doubt on a par with TOKYO STORY in every aspect, and mesmerises new audience to ask for more from Ozu’s treasury.