Isao Shirasawa, Chishu Ryu, Chieko Hagashiyama, Setsuko Hara, Ichiro Sugai, Kuniko Miyake, and Zen Murase in Early Summer
Early Summer is the second of the "seasonal" films made by Yasujiro Ozu in what is now recognized as his peak postwar period. The first was Late Spring (1949), and they were followed by Early Spring (1956), Late Autumn (1960), The End of Summer (1961), and An Autumn Afternoon (1962). I mention this chiefly because the English-language titles confuse even Ozu's hard-core admirers, among whom I count myself. "Was that Early Summer or The End of Summer?" we find ourselves asking when we're talking about Ozu's films. The confusion is further compounded by the fact that four of them starred the marvelous Setsuko Hara. It also doesn't help that the name of her character in Early Summer is Noriko, which was the name of her characters in Late Spring and Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953). So we have to remind ourselves that in Early Summer she is Noriko Mamiya, the unmarried 28-year-old daughter of Shukichi (Ichiro Sugai) and Shige Mamiya (Chieko Hagashiyama). She lives with them as well as with her brother, Koichi (Chishu Ryu), and sister-in-law, Fumiko (Kuniko Miyake) and their two bratty sons (Isao Shirasawa and Zen Murase). She also has a well-paying clerical job and a group of old girlfriends from her schooldays. So why does everyone, even her boss (Shuji Sano), want her to get married? When her boss starts arranging things with an old business friend of his, her family encourages the connection, even though she's never met the man and he's in his early 40s. Noriko has a mind of her own, however, and eventually surprises everyone -- perhaps even herself -- with her decision. It's a comedy-drama in which nothing exciting happens -- even key events like the search for the bratty boys when they decide to run away from home take place mostly off-screen -- but Ozu holds everything in such delicate suspension, allowing us to meditate on the relationships at length, that we get caught up in the everyday lives of the film's huge cast. There are some wonderful scenes between Noriko and her girlfriends, who share the kind of in-jokes that old friends everywhere have. Some of these are lost in translation, but even that reminds us of real life, when we're left out of a group's established routines. And sometimes the subtitles wittily help us out, finding equivalents for the hick accents Noriko and her friend adopt when talking about the possibility of moving from Tokyo to the country. Ozu and co-screenwriter Kogo Noda bring the characters to life in their private moments, as when Shukichi and Shige talk wistfully about the son who remained MIA after the war, or when they see a balloon floating ahead and reflect on how sad the child who lost it must be. No filmmaker had a profounder sense of the inner lives of people in their ordinary routine.