240 Early Summer

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Martha
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240 Early Summer

#1 Post by Martha » Sat Feb 12, 2005 8:38 pm

Early Summer

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The Mamiya family is seeking a husband for their daughter, Noriko, but she has ideas of her own. Played by the extraordinary Setsuko Hara, Noriko impulsively chooses her childhood friend, at once fulfilling her family’s desires while tearing them apart. A seemingly simple story, Early Summer is one of Yasujiro Ozu’s most complex works—a nuanced examination of life’s changes across three generations. The Criterion Collection is proud to present one of the director’s most enduring classics.

Special Features

- New high-definition digital transfer, with restored image and sound
- Audio commentary by Japanese-film expert Donald Richie, author of Ozu and A Hundred Years of Japanese Film
- Ozu's Films from Behind-the-Scenes, a conversation about Ozu and his working methods between child-actor and sound technician Kojiro Suematsu, assistant cameraman Takashi Kawamata, and Ozu producer Shizuo Yamanouchi
- Original theatrical trailer
- New and improved English subtitle translation
- Optimal image quality: RSDL dual-layer edition
- Plus: a new essay by film scholar David Bordwell, author Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema, and an essay about Ozu by filmmaker Jim Jarmusch

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zedz
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#2 Post by zedz » Sun Feb 13, 2005 4:52 pm

Re-relocated (new regime) :) :

I've yet to meet an Ozu film I didn't love, but this immediately became my favourite (even above Late Spring - at least until I see that film again in a good print). It's easy to forget just how playful he can be as a director, and this film is full of delightful jokes (among the characters as well as between director and audience). It's underpinned, however, by some of the truest observations of family dynamics you'll ever see as well as by an ocean of melacholy that sneaks up on you at the end like a ton of lead.

It's immensely pleasurable just watching the craft at work here: the script manages to individualise a gigantic cast of characters (some of whom don't even appear onscreen), and the pacing is split-second perfect. And just look at the skill and versatility of Ozu's actors. Chishu Ryu is the polar opposite of the warm, generous figures he plays elsewhere, and it's amazing to compare his and Haruko Sugimura's work here with their work in Tokyo Story: two years later they can be just as convincing after swapping generations and (to some degree) personalities.

The visual quality of the feature is excellent, given its age, it's got a brilliant commentary from Donald Richie, a decent, substantial additional documentary, and what might just be the most exquisite menu in the collection. No excuse for not owning this.

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#3 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon Feb 14, 2005 12:25 pm

I don't think the end of the film is intended to be melancholic at all -- but rather hopeful. Old gives way to new -- and the old hope its all for the best. The final sequence (of the fields) give us reason to feel their hopes are not in vain.

It's almost impossible to pick Ozu favorites -- too many films in the category. Be that as it may, this a wonderful film. While I think the Japanese DVD looks just a little nicer -- the Criterion has English subtitles. I wasn't terribly pleased by the commentary -- but liked the little feature where several of Ozu's colleagues shared their recollections.

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#4 Post by rlendog » Mon Feb 14, 2005 2:40 pm

Early Summer and Tokyo Story are my 2 favorite Ozus (not necessarily in that order), with Late Spring close behind.

I actually found the Criterion commentary helpful, although I disagreed with some of the interpretinve points - mostly the idea that Noriko was somehow being "selfish" in her marital choices, which doesn't seem to be the case at all. The impact on the family would have been the same regardless of her marital choice. And I think that is the point of the final scene, that the old gives way to the new, and it is best (although sometimes meloncholic) to accept that.
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#5 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon Feb 14, 2005 2:44 pm

I think I have around 20 favorite Ozu movies. I feel bad about the rest -- but I only _like_ those (mostly).

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#6 Post by Gregory » Mon Mar 07, 2005 5:51 am

I just watched this one again and noticed a rather significant error in the subtitles.* Around 1:20:50 Aya is discussing Noriko with the boss and mentions that she used to collect Hepburn photos. In the subtitles, more than once, it's written as Audrey Hepburn, but that's impossible because Audrey didn't become a star until a few years after Early Summer was made. For Noriko to have begun collecting them in her younger years, it was obviously Katharine Hepburn's 1930s RKO period that Noriko admired. Ozu was drawing an important connection between the strong-willed, at times downright subversive characters that got Katharine labeled "box office poison" in the industry newsletters and Noriko's determination to make her own decisions about marriage, and even that she may viewed as a lesbian by society, which many "old maids" of the time actually were. It's clearly an important scene on a number of different levels, as Richie sort of notes in his commentary.

To put this error in perspective, I'll note that it's far more significant than mere typos, such as when the subtitles say "complement" instead of "compliment" at one point.
Last edited by Gregory on Mon Mar 07, 2005 10:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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#7 Post by colinr0380 » Mon Mar 07, 2005 7:47 am

There are some interesting reviews of Ozu's films here and this quote about Late Spring, but which seems generally applicable to Early Summer, seems interesting:
Ozu's perennial subject is a family pressuring a grown son or daughter to marry, and the sadness and devastation this leaves in its wake. I have seen many different critical interpretations of this: that the kids are too "lazy" to take on adult responsibilities, that the parents are doing this out of a sense of "duty" or "sacrifice", that this is a universal experience of children leaving the parent's nest. I think all of these points of view are wrong, and are not supported by the films in question. Instead, I think these scenes should be given a different interpretation. First of all, Ozu seems to be a gay man, although nobody wants to say so. He was a man who was unmarried, and who never had an active relationship with a woman. He was expelled from boarding school as a teenager for writing a love letter to another male student. What Ozu seems to be criticizing in his films is the huge pressure society puts on people to marry, whatever their sexual orientation. Such pressure can be bad for some straight people who are temperamentally unsuited for marriage. But it is absolutely devastating to gay people who are pressured into marriage against their will. What we are seeing is Ozu's films is what the poet Adrienne Rich called "compulsory heterosexuality", the huge machine of social pressure put on everybody to lead a heterosexual life, whether they are suited to it or not.

The early part of many Ozu films shows how happy everyone is living as part of a family, with a parent-grown child relationship and friends. These scenes show a blissful, ecstatic happiness. They are an outpouring of pure joy, and a picture of paradise on earth. Then, part way through the picture, pressure starts on the grown child to marry. It comes from everybody: all the relatives and friends of the parent. It is relentless, and the machinery grinds on. The child is forced into marriage, something that at the end of the movie leads to the destruction of the happy family, as the child goes off to the new home, and painful sorrow and despair for both the parent and the child.

No one in the film speaks out against marriage as an institution. The child resists, but has no ideological weapons. All voices are raised in favor of marriage as a universal obligation. But the film never makes any transcendental moral argument in favor of marriage. It shows that it is socially demanded, but it never shows it benefiting anyone, or hurting anyone by its absence. No moral case for marriage is ever made in the film. It is merely unthinkingly accepted by everyone as the natural order of things, a universal obligation of nature. Ozu's films are not ambiguous on this point: they do not make the slightest case for marriage as a moral obligation. So critics are reading into Ozu's films when they use words like "duty" to describe the characters' actions. Critics who summarize an Ozu film as "the father steps aside so that the daughter can find happiness in marriage" are also seriously misreading the movie. While the father's friends might make such an argument to him in the film, the film itself does nothing to support it. The heroine clearly is not going off to a life of happiness, but to a total hell.

Critics who assert that marriage is part of nature, or the inevitable cycle of the generations are also misreading Ozu. He nowhere makes that assertion. Instead, the daughter in Late Spring fights against her marriage with every ounce of her moral being. How can anything be "natural" or "inevitable" that human beings fight against with every fiber of their being?

I also think it is a disservice to Ozu to suggests that he regards the suffering in his films as the tragic result of the human condition. Nowhere does Ozu make the claim that the social custom of universal marriage is part of the human condition, part of man's timeless fate on Earth. Instead, one can easily imagine a society where it is not so, where people who are happy and who are not harming anyone are left alone and allowed to flourish.

Ozu in fact shows people making a choice. They are happy in the early parts of the films, before they choose marriage for the child. The subject of marriage is consciously introduced, and unhappiness follows immediately. The choice is made under tremendous social pressure, but it is a choice all the same. It is not "natural" according to Ozu, not "moral", not "mature", not an "inevitable part of life". It is just a very bad choice.
That seems interesting to me as there seems to be a poor view taken of arranged marriages that do not allow a person to choose their partner in our present society, but there are just as many societal imperatives that force people into marriage in many other less obvious ways.

It seems to me that Ozu is showing how a certain way of living suits certain people, but it is universally applied to force everyone into accepting it as the only way to live. Good people end up making bad decisions 'for the best', or allow their faith in their own decision making abilities to be shaken by the advice of others which may be good or bad itself. But that flaw is also the greatness of the characters it seems because the 'bad' people in Ozu's films are not truly evil (:evil:), they are simply those who feel they have all the answers, and are at ease easily doling out advice for others (as if they were in a much superior position), and an insistence on rigid social convention which floors them when a problem occurs, such as the death in Tokyo Story, or the children not speaking in Good Morning, or someone not wishing to enter into marriage in this film. I'd guess that Ozu is asking for people to take a gentler, more supportive attitude to each other, allow people to go their own way, and if you have done your job as a parent well you should be proud of making an idependently minded, questioning person. But he is also showing how difficult if not impossible it is to do that when you are pressured from all sides to conform.

There is also a review of Early Summer further down the linked page:
Early Summer seems more comic than many of Ozu's works. While it still invokes serious themes, the characters are more successful in dealing with them here, and manage to avoid tragedy. One wonders if the use of camera movement here is related to this comic orientation. It recalls the profuse camera movements in Ozu's silent comedy, I Was Born, But.... The film also has a sheer abundance of plot compared to other Ozu films, suggesting that the life force is fully operational here.

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#8 Post by artfilmfan » Mon Mar 07, 2005 9:04 pm

Gregory wrote:I just watched this one again and noticed a rather significant error in the subtitles.* Around 1:20:50 Aya is discussing Noriko with the boss and mentions that she used to collect Hepburn photos. In the subtitles, more than once, it's written -- repeatedly -- as Audrey Hepburn, but that's impossible because Audrey didn't become a star until a few years after Early Summer was made. For Noriko to have begun collecting them in her younger years, it was obviously Katharine Hepburn's 1930s RKO period that Noriko admired.
We discussed this in the previous version of this forum (the one that crashed) and concluded that it was indeed Katherine Hepburn. Audrey in the subtitles is in error. Nick Wrigley clarifies this, once and for all (in print, I mean), in his essay in the booklet that is included in the Tartan Noriko Trilogy release.

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#9 Post by Gregory » Mon Mar 07, 2005 10:30 pm

Right. I couldn't remember if it had been discussed before. I think I may have caught it the first time I watched the DVD, then put it out of my mind and forgotten about it. This especially irks me not only as an admirer of early Katharine Hepburn but also because an important piece of the interpretation of the film turns on the translation of that scene.

It's one in a long series of blunders that's made me decide to stop pre-ordering Criterions. I'll wait to decide whether to buy a title until after several reviews come out. Frankly, I think they make too many significant errors for the prices they charge.

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#10 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Mar 08, 2005 12:22 am

As I recall, that Japanese dialog simply mentions "Hepburn" -- I can't imagine how Criterion made this sort of (inexcusably) careless error -- I am pretty certain that the older Home Vision video got this right.

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#11 Post by Steven H » Tue Mar 08, 2005 12:49 am

I have two, slightly silly, thoughts about this. One, didn't Donald Richie do the subtitles? He should be blamed! He's the real mastermind behind this whole thing anyway. Buck stops there. Two, maybe they were trying to sell more copies of the Charade rerelease? Kids'll buy more copies of Early Summer if they think Noriko likes Audrey instead of dingy ol'Katherine Hepburn. "Summertime be damned" they say... "sell more Charade! Kat's box office POISON!"

Another thing, it *is* Toshiro Mifune they mention near the beginning of Floating Weeds, right?

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#12 Post by King of Kong » Tue Mar 08, 2005 12:46 pm

I understand the frustration, but come on! It's not as if the transfer itself were bungled - just the subtitles (they're not even a part of the film at all)

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#13 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Mar 08, 2005 1:41 pm

Not sure about the Mifune reference. When exactly does this come up?

Not sure who worked on the new subtitles -- it's not mentioned onthe Criterion web site -- only that the subs are "new and improved".

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#14 Post by Steven H » Tue Mar 08, 2005 1:48 pm

In Floating Weeds, near the beginning when one of the actors is distributing flyers at the brothel/barbershop(?), he facetiously responds that his name is "Toshiro Mifune" when asked.

My copy of Early Summer is out on loan, but I'm pretty sure the liner notes said Richie did the subtitles.

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#15 Post by FilmFanSea » Tue Mar 08, 2005 2:20 pm

Steven H wrote:My copy of Early Summer is out on loan, but I'm pretty sure the liner notes said Richie did the subtitles.
You are correct. And someone named Stephanie Friedman was responsible for "Masters and Subtitle Supervision"--so it must've slipped by her, too.

To my mind, the Hepburn subtitle is an honest mistake, and it doesn't ruin the DVD (or the film) for me. I don't expect (or demand) perfection from anyone or anything in my life, and that includes Criterion.

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#16 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Mar 08, 2005 2:30 pm

But it was also an unnecessary mistake -- since the prior version got this right. It's sort of like Criterion doing worse color balancing on "Good Morning" and "Floating Weeds" than had been done on the older video and laserdisc versions.

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#17 Post by King of Kong » Tue Mar 08, 2005 2:35 pm

Speaking of subtitles, didn't the Criterion Tokyo Story subtitles mention something about "Grandma and Grandma"?

This Hepburn mistake is probably a little more severe (I'm assuming the context is very specific), but still.

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#18 Post by Steven H » Tue Mar 08, 2005 2:36 pm

FilmFanSea wrote:To my mind, the Hepburn subtitle is an honest mistake, and it doesn't ruin the DVD (or the film) for me. I don't expect (or demand) perfection from anyone or anything in my life, and that includes Criterion.
I agree, but even thought I've seen this film many times, knowing what the real subtitle is has already changed my opinion of the character a little. It's also strange that Richie missed this (assuming he had more to do with it than the Supervision) since, I'm pretty sure, he brings up Ozu's fondness for Katherine Hepburn in his book "Ozu".

I'm not terribly upset, but it's a genuine complaint. Maybe nitpicking, but like I said, it seems pretty important to the film (I may not be the most objective voice on this... it still bothers me that people call his last film An Autumn Afternoon instead of The Taste of Mackerel... *smirk*).

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#19 Post by Gregory » Tue Mar 08, 2005 4:12 pm

But it was also an unnecessary mistake -- since the prior version got this right. It's sort of like Criterion doing worse color balancing on "Good Morning" and "Floating Weeds" than had been done on the older video and laserdisc versions.
That's my take on it, as well. And it is a detail, but it's a very important one. Of course it didn't ruin the film for me; that's silly. Even if I hadn't already seen it, it wouldn't have. I also don't expect perfection, and they do a lot of truly outstanding releases. However, they could be doing a lot better, especially with framing and color issues, and it's taught me to be cautious.

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#20 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Mar 11, 2005 8:23 pm

colinr0380 wrote:There are some interesting reviews of Ozu's films here and this quote about Late Spring, but which seems generally applicable to Early Summer, seems interesting
I would say that the reading is highly subjective, but that Ozu leaves the meaning open enough to allow such a reading. That said, I think this sort of analysis works better for "Late Spring" than "Early Summer" -- which shows us a determined young woman who, in fact, makes her own choice and sticks with it (even if doing so causes bothe her family and herself a certain amount of distress).

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#21 Post by Gregory » Fri Mar 11, 2005 10:55 pm

I don't think Noriko feels she has much of a choice in Early Summer. The pressure from her family becomes something that she has to live with every day. As a result, she chooses the lesser of two evils, someone closer to the family that she trusts and will make her life more tolerable than if she ended up with an untrustworthy stranger with whom she has little in common. But neither option was what she really wanted.

So, the way I read it, it's not just a matter of causing herself distress as it is surrendering her freedom to live life the way she wants to. However, I do think Ozu drove the point home more emphatically in Late Spring.

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#22 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Mar 11, 2005 11:27 pm

I don't think Noriko feels she has much of a choice in Early Summer.
I disagree. Noriko made a choice for something she affirmatively wanted. She liked her friend, her friend's little daughter and her friend's mother. She is strong-minded enough that she could have warded off any arranged marriage she didn't want. But when she saw a positive opportunity she had not previously envisioned, she seized it and wouldn't let go.

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#23 Post by Gregory » Sat Mar 12, 2005 12:18 am

She is strong-minded enough that she could have warded off any arranged marriage she didn't want.
Yes, easily, but she didn't want her entire family to be disappointed in her. She saw that even if she had "won" the conflict of values, she would have lost. It takes a person with a great deal of goodness to recognize that, and at the end of the film I felt hopeful that her goodness would be rewarded with a happy married life. Still, I saw her act of self-sacrifice as unutterably tragic.

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#24 Post by Michael Kerpan » Sat Mar 12, 2005 10:03 am

> Still, I saw her act of self-sacrifice as unutterably tragic.

I'm sorry. I don't see ANY self-sacrifice whatsoever in this film. She does precisely what she wants (and other family members look at her action as selfish). Once the initial controversy has passed, Noriko is distressed that her choice will have an impact on the rest of the family. But there is no hint that she has any second thoughts about the rightness of her choice -- for herself.

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#25 Post by jcelwin » Sat Mar 12, 2005 12:58 pm

I thought that she was getting married because she thought that, 'that is what you do'. I think she thought that everyone should probably be married at some point, and that she was about ready for it. However, she wasn't just going to marry someone to please everyone, but someone whe wouldn't mind to be married to. Obviously she did feel bad for hurting everyone feelings, but she still seemed to think that she made the right decision, since she is the one to be married.

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