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Friday, May 13, 2016
Yasujirō Ozu | 小早川家の秋 Kohayagawa-ke no aki (The End of Summer)
the end of the family
by Douglas Messerli
Kōgo Noda and Yasujirō Ozu (screenplay), Yasujirō Ozu (director) 小早川家の秋 Kohayagawa-ke no aki (The End of Summer) / 1961
Fumiko is furious over her father’s behavior and tells him so, particularly since she had long witnessed her mother’s tears when she was young, but the old man denies his actions. Ozu, it is clear, rather approves of his elderly character’s pleasures, particularly in the manner he shoots the joyful Manbei joyfully rushing to Sasaki, and through the gentle ministrations of Sasaki herself. The only slightly sour aspect to their relationship might be seen in the behavior of Sasaki’s selfish daughter, Yuriko, who may or may not be Manbei’s offspring. Yuriko, who dates mostly American men, insists that the old man should buy her a fur stole.
Accordingly for the first third of this film, we encounter these various figures without much truly happening. They meet, go about their daily activities, and, most importantly—as in any Ozu film—talk with one another, sometimes quite obliquely, but, on occasion, straightforwardly expressing their worries and fears over tea, sake, and food. Indeed, one might describe the dining table, bar stools, and restaurant booths as the major props of this and other Ozu films, and accordingly, characters are mostly sitting throughout; even when Noriko and Aikiko speak to one another it is in a position of what we might describe as hunkering.
Yet for all the uneventfulness of The End of Summer, we learn a great deal about family members through their gestures and acts; and we come to realize that despite their fairly conservative upbringings, they appear to be coming to terms with the modern world.
It is no accident surely that the eldest of Manbei’s daughters is the most traditional, and the most angered by her father’s sexual activities; yet even she, after she has vented her feelings, can only laugh at his insistence that he is leaving the house to make a business deal.
Aikiko, although dressing traditionally, encourages Noriko to make up her own mind about love, and refuses to even attend the dinner appointments with Yanosuke’s businessman friend. Yuriko, as I have suggested, is already almost entirely Americanized.
At the same time, although this family unknowingly is in the process of breaking up, they come together over Manbei’s first heart attack and, soon after, his sudden death. And when they do gather we recognize their great love for Manbei and for one another, while the viewer, in turn, comes to feel for them.
By summer’s end the Kohayagawa clan must merge their company with a rival, while Noriko leaves to join her young man in Sapporo, forcing her close confidant, Aikiko, to fend for herself. Even as we see the family, for the last time, in traditional procession to the crematorium where the patriarch’s body has been burned, we perceive—as Noriko and Aikiko, in conversation, trail far behind the others—that there may never again be such a full gathering of this family, that with the death the father their deep familial ties have come undone.
Los Angeles, May 12, 2016