And on to number two in what turns out to be director Yasujirō Ozu‘s Noriko trilogy: three films starring japan’s Eternal Virgin (nope, still not flattering), Setsuko Hara as a different Noriko. Yup, same name, pretty much the same conundrum (get married, be a post-war woman in Japan, surprise a modem audience), but a different character (although also called Noriko)…make the traditions for for the 1950s as Japan enters Early Summer.
So, after the passivity and needless support of a widower Dad in Late Spring / Banshun (1949), Noriko isn’t putting up much of a fight in this film. She lives with her parents, her older brother, his wife and his ghastly, ghastly children. An old uncle pitches up to point out tradition’s requirement that Noriko gets married and…well…on glides the film…
Much like the first in the trilogy, it sticks to the house style. Most scenes are in the family home, or a disconcertingly western office, and shot from the floor. Everyone does the impressively-flexible sitting to eat and work, but, bloody hell, old Jack here felt for their knees again. And while it’s weird to consider the contemporary prejudices we came away with from the war, it is interesting to see the domesticity played out in what must have been a time of intense shame, possibly even guilt.
Noriko is a secretary, taking bits of advice from her strange boss. In one moment earnest, he is cackling at stuff that really isn’t funny in the next. Shûji Sano as Sotaro is very nearly a friend, but there’s a proper air of weird about his and Noriko’s chats. Not that her friends are much better. They’re split into single women and married women, and whilst I’m a fan of tradition and newness having a good barney, this stuff isn’t subtle. Noriko’s best buddy Aya (Chikage Awashima giving good attitude) is clearly the vulnerable future of Japanese youth… Well, until video games march over their culture and put the young off slurpy-times…
There are pressured not-rows a-plenty at home. Noriko’s parents, once spiked by her uncle, just seem sad about these young folk and their disregard for the old ways. Ichirō Sugai and Chieko Higashiyama as Mum and Dad look like they’re going to sleep their way through the disappointment. Noriko’s brother Kōichi (Chishū Ryū giving quality frown), a doctor, is rather more tart, but then he’s also dealing with two children. Much like in Tokyo Story, the children are deeply, deeply irritating: rude, disrespectful, deserving of the proper telling off they deserve. That they run away and have to be hunted down after Kōichi lets rip is a parental disaster. Old Jack here wasn’t sure what point the film was making. Perhaps, if the old are tradition, Noriko and friends are modernity, the boys are a chaotic tomorrow..? Discipline was still relevant, people.
And then the games to get to a wedding begin, what with this Noriko being okay with it all. These moments reveal a commonality across cultures that probably wasn’t intended. There’s taking the piss out of regional accents. There’s the sweetness of a symbolic gift from a man who didn’t return from war. Perhaps enough time has passed for a warmer eye to take in that fact than at the time… And there’s the death of family snobbery.
If you enjoyed Late Spring / Banshun (1949), not least the glories of Setsuko Hara reflecting fuddy-duddy character actors with a dash of grinny energy, then Early Summer will be a pleasure. Ultimately, it is an extension of the same formula: the post-war domestic, the shift in a culture led by the women, floor-level cameras. Something of the eternal runs through the points it makes: and that’s the sign of classy story-telling.
Skip carefully on in…it’s pretty much perfect.