EARLY SUMMER (Yasujiro Ozu, 1951)

Postwar Tokyo; Noriko’s family prevails upon her to marry, but she chooses a man of whom they disapprove. He is twelve years her senior, has a child, and is relocating to Akita. Noriko’s family worries that she will not end up happy.
     In the aftermath of war, with Japan’s authoritarian ruler deposed and democracy dawning, the structured, stable Japanese family, as a social force, has devolved. A small child tells his grandfather (twice) that he hates him; her older brother (Chishu Ryu, superb) tells Noriko she is impudent to men—to which Noriko counters, “Men used to be too important.” “Our family has scattered,” the father will say once Noriko has left. “We shouldn’t want too much,” he tells his wife (twice). Is this the path to happiness—being content with what life gives rather than asking for more? Perhaps an attitude of acceptance provides the only consolation and relief for life’s disappointments, and life’s transience.
     Bakashû, delicately composed, is sensitive to light and to nuances of feeling; yet the accumulated result is overwhelming. No film more powerfully conveys the passage of time—here, a paradoxical, slow, inexorable rush. Sisters walk the beach, talking, the camera following, or the father and mother sit outdoors side by side, discussing family, the low, angled camera favoring their backs. Much of their anxious conversation is pressured by time—human time measured against eternity.
     As ever with Ozu, human beings are paramount. In a beautiful long shot, a loose balloon scales up the sky. “Some child must be crying,” the father notes.
     Ozu’s characters experience happiness, when they do, not because of good fortune but from the way they engage life: with humility, and with their philosophical stance. This life is gently moving, always, imperceptibly, toward the last end.

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