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


 As in so many of Ozu’s great films, The End of Summer is a drama grounded in the family, in this case the Kohayagawa family, headed by the elderly Manbei Kohayagawa (Ganjirō Nakamura), who established the sake company now run by his son-in-law, Hisao (Keiju Kobayashi). Manbei lives with his eldest daughter Fumiko (Michiyo Aratama) and Hisao, who have noticed that recently the widowed Manbei has been disappearing for long parts of each day. When Hisao sends his clerk to tail his father-in-law, he discovers that Manbei has been returning to his former mistress, Sasaki Tsune (Chieko Naniwa).

      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.

      Manbei’s other daughter, Noriko (Yoko Tsukasa) lives in Osaka with Aikiko (Setsuko Hara), Manbei’s daughter-in-law—whose husband, a professor, has died—and her young son, Minoru. Noriko works as an office clerk, while Aikiko helps out in an art gallery. Manbei has asked his brother-in-law, Kitagawa Yanosuke (Daisuke Katō) to help in finding husbands for both, but despite his attempts, neither finds the men to whom he introduces them suitable. Aikiko would prefer to remain unmarried, and Noriko is more interested in a friend, Teramoto (Akira Takarada), who, as the film begins, moves to Sapporo to begin a career as a professor.

       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

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