Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Ozu's "Early Summer"

Silence and space are such powerful tools in the hands of artists. Yet both are pushed out by over-busy film frames, over-busy musical arrangements, over-busy plots and stories. It seems to me that it's not the audiences that lack the attention-span, but the artists themselves. They are afraid to pause and breathe.

Yasujiro Ozu was not one of those artists. Watching his masterpiece "Early Summer" (1951), you cannot help but marvel at the extraordinary weight of silence and the use of space. The camera lingers on an empty chair or just a drawer long after the character has left the scene. Shots are composed at eye-level (a signature Ozu technique: the now-famous "tatami" shot) making the story, the story-world and the characters utterly intimate and believable. This could be anyone's house: a deaf grand-uncle, grandparents that no longer matter, parents with their own hidden agendas (and emotional needs) and of course, the big question. Is it right to let one's happiness be subsumed by the interests of the family?

There isn't much by way of action or plot in "Early Summer". Noriko has reached that age where she calls herself "an old maid", if a little facetiously. Her brother, a doctor who is emotionally absent from his own marriage (and from his children's lives), is all in favor of a match suggested by Noriko's boss. The family too is happy for Noriko. The groom is successful and a respected member of the community, just that he is pushing 40. Noriko does not see herself leading a happy life with this man and agrees to marry a neighbor, a divorced man with a kid.

That's all there is to "Early Summer". This minimal plot is used by the master to study the family and the heartbreak that accompanies transitions within a family. But this is not some melodramatic "family" film, but a very funny one.

Silence, pauses, space- all the great film-makers use them. Even a hyper-kinetic Tarantino employs them ("Jackie Brown" is filled with such stunning moments.) But one must watch "Early Summer" to see how Ozu takes it to a whole new level.


Anonymous said...

Not a big fan of the melancholic Ozu, and I haven't seen Early Summer either, but I am wondering that if by "funny", you mean the kind of loving tolerance with which Ozu amuses us in Good Morning, then I am totally on.


km said...

Hey, Anon, Thanks for stopping by.

You find Ozu melancholic? Then you must see "Early Summer". It is not LOL-funny by any means, but it is filled with little funny moments of the kind we see in a family.


Russell said...

I've never heard of this movie, but it sounds really interesting! I just added it to my Netflix queue. So your review at least got me curious.

I just recently watched Me & You & Everyone We Know, which seems similar to this in that it's more about character, emotion and the subtle humors in life. A little crude at times, but overall great.