A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Monday, January 25, 2016

The End of Summer (Yasujiro Ozu, 1961)

I would call Ozu the most "Chekhovian" of filmmakers because his movies really do remind me of Chekhov's plays. But the adjective has been so overused to the point that all it seems to mean is "a melancholy character study with a little humor, no action, and not much plot." That is, of course, true of The End of Summer, but it doesn't come close to capturing the effect of the film, the sense of having spent privileged moments with people as they go through the universal experiences of living: love, disappointment, death, reconciliation, coping with the past, and so on. It's about the Kohayagawa family, who run a small sake brewery that's in financial difficulties, partly because the patriarch, Manbei (Ganjiro Nakamura), has lost interest in the company. In his old age, he has rediscovered a former mistress, Sasaki (Chieko Naniwa), whose 21-year-old daughter, Yuriko (Reiko Dan), may be his own child. She's a flighty young thing who has a couple of American boyfriends and really hopes only to get a mink stole out of Manbei. Meanwhile, his own family struggles to figure out what to do with the business and how to keep track of Manbei, sometimes sending out employees to follow him on his excursions to see Sasaki. Manbei has two daughters, Fumiko (Michiyo Aratama) and Noriko (Yoko Tsukasa), as well as a daughter-in-law, Akiko (Setsuko Hara), his son's widow. Fumiko is married, and Manbei wants to get Noriko and Akiko married off before he dies, so he asks his brother-in-law, Kitagawa (Daisuke Kato), to find husbands for them. Neither woman is particularly interested in Kitagawa's picks, but they go through the motions to please Manbei. Like I said, not much plot, but Ozu and co-screenwriter Kogo Noda make the most of the characters, particularly Manbei himself, whom Nakamura turns into an endearing scamp. As often in Ozu's films, there are peripheral characters who serve as a kind of chorus: In this case, it's a couple of farmers (Chishu Ryu, who appeared in almost all of Ozu's films, and Yuko Mochizuki) who watch the funeral procession at the film's end and provide the appropriate comment about the "cycle of life."