It's been a few months since I last watched a film directed by Yasujiro Ozu. I returned to his work this evening with his next-to-last film, THE END OF SUMMER (1961).
THE END OF SUMMER, called KOHAYAGAWA-KE NO AKI in Japan, will have a familiar feel for those who love Ozu films, though it's perhaps a bit more somber than most.
The film is the story of the family of Kohayagawa Manbei (Ganjiro Nakamura). He's concerned about the marriage prospects of widowed daughter Akiko (Setsuko Hara) and younger Noriko (Yoko Tsukasa). Meanwhile daughter Fumiko (Michiyo Aratama) and her husband Hisao (Keiju Kobayashi) struggle keeping the family sake business afloat.
And Manbei himself has taken to disappearing without explanation; he's been visiting a former mistress (Chieko Naniwa) he hadn't seen for many years.
As always with Ozu films, the story is told with a gentle, tranquil rhythm which soothes the viewer even as the characters contemplate some of life's greatest decisions and problems. Akiko isn't sure she wishes to remarry, and Noriko is interested in a possible suitor who differs from the one selected by her family -- and who has moved far away. Fumiko struggles with bitterness at her father spending time with the woman whose role in his life had made her late mother sad.
The film ultimately becomes a meditation on the meaning of life, with Ozu regular Chishu Ryu showing up late in the film as a farmer who discusses the "circle of life" with his wife as a family mourns. Ryu's importance as father and brother in other Ozu films gives his appearance layers of significance which might not be realized by a viewer new to Ozu. These moving scenes blend sadness with serenity and acceptance.
LATE AUTUMN (1960); though they are sisters here, their roles are similar to the earlier film. The older, traditionally dressed Hara wants her life to go on as it is, while urging the younger woman, who usually wears Western dress, to marry.
Like other Ozu films, the movie also incorporates looks at postwar Westernization. The neon sign flashing "New Japan" seems a particularly blatant commentary! There are the ever-present Coca-Cola signs, and most curiously, Manbei's possible illegitimate daughter (Reiko Dan) makes the sign of the cross as she briefly prays at his bedside.
Though not one of my top favorite Ozu films, I've found that any Ozu film is very much worth seeing. The language, the emotions, and the beautiful images wash over the viewer in a way which is most satisfying. I was almost surprised when the film's 103 minutes came to an end; I hadn't glanced at the clock once, I was so absorbed in the story.
THE END OF SUMMER was filmed by Asakazu Nakai.
THE END OF SUMMER is part of the five-film Late Ozu set from the Criterion Collection.
Previously reviewed Ozu films: LATE SPRING (1949), EARLY SUMMER (1951), EQUINOX FLOWER (1958), GOOD MORNING (1959), and LATE AUTUMN (1960).