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October 13, 2011

Early Summer (1951) directed by Yasujiro Ozu, Schochiku Co, Ltd.

Filed under: Analysis Project # 1 — Daniel Min @ 7:09 pm

“Early Summer” (Bakushu) is an immaculate work and the embodiment of such fine cinema to come from postwar Japan. A complex familial study that have subtle pain beneath, yet aesthetically graceful in its own right. We examine the relationship of Noriko a brilliant young independent woman of such elegance between her friends, family and co-workers. An ensemble drama broadly depicting her as a strong productive working woman (very rare due to such evolving nature of feminist issues and woman’s suffrage as women are newly assimilating into society with equal rights and quality of life in postwar Japan)[1] as the last swallow of the family’s bird nest, getting ready to leave the household in order to marry an agriculture businessman almost twice her age.

Scene Analysis: Taking place in Mamiya’s residence, where the family is scolding Noriko for making a promise to Kenkichi’s mother on marrying her prospective husband.

We see an elderly couple kneeling next to each other on top of the sleeping mat that is geometrically placed like all the other furniture in their room. A bookcase is secured to the left along with a lamppost to their rear behind this shōji less room as we see Shukichi smoking. It starts off by a “Medium Shot” as he inhales the smoke and instantaneously shifts to a “Close Up” as he exhales the smoke while asking if his daughter is back.

 The same “Close Up” shot from a kneeling position is reversed and directly proportional to Shige which she replies “I heard her come in a few minutes ago”.  Both of these two “Close Up” shots are in “Shallow Focus” then it cuts back to “Deep Focus” with a “Medium Shot” as we see the opposite side of the room.

This “Medium Shot” is still fixated from a low angle, Fumiko the wife of Noriko’s older brother Koichi comes to the scene advising her parents-in-law to go downstairs. Wearing a collar shirt with a neatly striped kitchen apron attached to her conservative skirt which is culturally in contrast to the kimonos that the elderly are wearing. The costume connotatively signifies a strong cross cultural relationship between the young and the old. As they leave, we get to observe the premise but with a reverse shot from where it starts off.

It cuts next to a “Medium Shot” from a low angle as the elderly walks downstairs, passing by the kitchen in the far distance with every utensil being well organized and geometrically situated.

The elderly walks into the Washitsu with tatami flooring [2] as they join with the rest of their adult children. A “décor” is displayed with the same “Medium Shot” from before, a lamp on top of the ceiling is centered at the apex of this shot, much like some of the other scene that took place in the Mamiya’s residence. Again we see another contrast of the cultural and socioeconomic context between the western world and the orient due to Noriko’s cashmere sweater. The elderly come into the scene asking what happened as they kneel down onto the mat which is precisely placed in parallel to the table for family conferences.

Shukichi – Ichirô Sugai

Koichi – Chishu Ryu

Shige – Chikage Awashima

Series of “Close Up” shots with “Shallow Focus” display each of the family members as they discuss about Noriko’s proposition. It starts off with Koichi telling Shukichi that his younger sister will soon marry Yabe, then it straight cuts to Shukichi’s reaction asking his son if that person is Kenkichi to which Koichi reply “Noriko promised Kenkichi’s mother that she will soon marry the widower” and another “Close Up” shot of Shige saying Kenkichi is leaving for the rural prefecture of Akita tomorrow.


 It goes back to a low angle “Medium Shot” with “Deep Focus” in reverse as we get to see the backyard of their household. Family members encompasses around Noriko with looks of disapproval. The elderly couple are sitting adjacent to their son and daughter. Shige from the right of the screen asks her daughter if “this is an important matter?” and ponders if Noriko has given such decision careful consideration. Koichi who is directly opposite of Noriko tells her that Kenkichi has a child and questioned her to why didn’t she at least tell her father and mother about such matter.

Noriko – Setsuko Hara

The camera cuts to Noriko with “Shallow Focus” and a “Close Up” shot on the same level with the family member. In contrary to all the other “Close Up”, the camera focusing on Noriko is a lot different because she is mildly bowing her head down whereas the rest are looking directly into the camera as if it’s a “frontality”. It generates this atmosphere of guilt and shame which is very common in Japanese cultural anthropology of social control.[3]

The dialogue ensues as it intermittently cuts from “Medium Shot” with “Deep Focus” to “Close Up” with “Shallow Focus” as they’re discussing with Noriko how much hardship she will endure by marrying a widower and going from a city girl to a rural wife. Noriko is certainly brave yet unreasonable with her decision, not only this scene expresses true form of feminism however it conveys such a deep human understanding of reconnecting what was lost. (e.g. The scene where Kenkichi’s mother crying and overjoyed with emotions after hearing from Noriko about marrying Kenkichi, will certainly give the audience a subtle yet clear observation on the pain of losing a spouse).

Lastly the “Medium Shot” is no longer in reverse as don’t get to see the backyard anymore, Shukichi and Shige both get up from their seating and the same shot follows them to where we originally left off. From the shot where we see the kitchen to the shot where we see their room. The camera is still fixated from a low angle giving us a connotation of the Japanese culture as we are entering the household of respect and sophisticated courtesy.

Yasujiro Ozu had done such a phenomenal job creating a delicate work of art. This scene possess all the elements of establishing an effective mise-en-scène due to carefully installed furniture that are placed throughout the household in a very systematic manner as it demonstrates the efficacy of calm and elegant vicinity within the Nipponese society. A mild low key lighting is present as each actor performs their best to display imperturbable yet emotional behavior, especially Setsuko Hara a wide-eyed talented beauty who played Noriko with such extraordinary skills. Again this scene expresses true form of feminism because it is Noriko’s own decision to marry without her family consent, Noriko understand that she will most likely sacrifice the privilege of living in the city in order to be with her childhood lover and become burden with a child that is not her own.

References:

– [1] http://www2.gol.com/users/friedman/writings/p1.html

– [2] http://www.pitt.edu/~natrooms/countries/japan.html

– [3] Ruth Benedict, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, 1946.

 

 

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