Yasujirô Ozu is one of the most highly regarded—possibly the most highly regarded—of all Japanese filmmakers, but there’s no denying that his particular style and pace are a matter of taste, or possibly even an acquired taste. Nowhere is this any more evident than in Early Summer (1951). The film is a slight tale about a family in post-World War II Tokyo, centering on the unmarried 28-year-old daughter, Noriko (Setsuko Hara), who needs to be married off so that the parents can retire to the country. But Noriko has her own ideas about marriage. It comes down to a combination of a generational clash and the older folks—and patriarchal males—coming to terms with the Westernization of Japan. The film is leisurely paced and generally shot from Ozu’s trademark low-angle compositions. (Neither this, nor his tendency to eschew camera movement, is a strict rule, however. In fact, some of the film’s moving shots are peculiarly arbitrary.) This makes for a film that tends to play in a fairly constant style that seems to please some people more than I can say it does me. However, the film is held together by strong performances, especially from the almost luminous Hara. There’s also a surprising amount of light comedy and a pleasantly upbeat feel to the film. Whether or not it’s a great masterpiece is a judgment I leave to those more in tune with the director’s style.
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