“Some women don’t want to get married — are you one of them?”
In post-war Japan, 28-year-old Noriko (Setsuko Hara) is pressured by her family and friends into thinking about marriage. When her boss (Shuji Sano) finds her a suitable match, her family is thrilled — but Noriko surprises everyone with her decision.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Feminism and Women’s Issues
- Grown Children
- Japanese Films
- Ozu Films
Yazujiro Ozu — who, ironically, remained unmarried and childless throughout his career — specialized in meticulously crafted films about Japanese family life. Early Summer, featuring many of the same actors who starred in his Late Spring (1949) and Tokyo Story (1953), primarily focuses on the marital status of lovely Setsuko Hara. Though happy working as a secretary and living at home, Hara is pressured into selecting a husband; her resolution to this issue (a decision which seems to come out of nowhere, and surprises everyone) propels the final portion of the film, as we witness the ripple effect of her choice on everyone around her.
Interwoven with this central story are classic Ozu-style vignettes of family life and intergenerational conflict, all of which speak volumes about the shifting roles of men, women, and children in post-war Japan: Noriko’s spoiled nephews (Zen Murase and Isao Shirosawa) are consistently rude to their elders, who in turn are both bemused and frustrated by the boys’ behavior; Noriko’s parents (Ichiro Sagai and Chieko Higashiyama) are contemplating moving away and “leaving the house to the young people”; Noriko and her friend Aya (Chikage Awashima) giggle knowingly over their options as independent working women.
As always, Ozu’s distinctive directorial style — low camera angles, long shots, luminous b&w photography — makes for an evocative, leisurely viewing experience, one which is deceptively simple on the surface, yet packs an emotional punch. While firmly grounded in Japanese cultural mores, Ozu’s films are remarkably accessible to western audiences, who will easily be able to relate to the universal themes of family and independence — and the difficulty in maintaining a delicate balance between the two.
Note: Hara plays a character named Noriko in three of Ozu’s films: this, Late Spring (1949), and Tokyo Story (1953).
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Setsuko Hara as Noriko
- Haruko Sugimura as the mother of Noriko’s childhood friend
- Chikage Awashima as Noriko’s friend Aya
- The surprising moment at which we discover Noriko’s true intentions
- Noriko and her friends — two married, one not — discussing the pros and cons of marriage
- An insightful, heartfelt look at the complexity of family dynamics in post-war Japan
- Yuuharu Atsuta’s luminous b&w cinematography
Yes. Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.