Early Spring

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For the 1956 “Early Spring” Shochiku (the studio) urged Ozu to target a younger audience. It was hardly a youth movie. The protagonist, Sugiyama Shoji (Ikebe Ryo), is a WWII veteran, who is married to the rather chilly Masako (Awashima Chikage). They had a son who died, and he has a coworker at the Toa Fire-Brick Company, called “Goldfish” (Kishi Keiko), who seeks to become his mistress (with no encouragement form him that this is possible).

He often goes drinking (and singing) with his war buddies or plays mahjong late into the night, but his wife realizes he has spent the night with a woman when she finds lipstick on his shirt. (Does this happen in the 21st century? It is a staple of black-and-white movie extramarital relations, but I have neither heard of it or seen it in movies of the last few decades.)

She goes home to his mother, while a quasi-tribunal of very gossipy male coworkers interrogate and chide “Goldfish.”

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Probably unrelated to this affair, which seems incipient rather than established to me, for him a one-night stand though more for her, Sugiyama is asked to take a position in the company’s production facility in Mitsuishi in the mountains. I thought this would be where the air is clear, but many smokestacks billow smoke there, like Pittsburgh of the 1940s.

There is a conventional happy ending with Masako relenting and arriving in Mitsuishi. Again, there is a dead man forgotten for the happy ending (not to mention “Goldfish”!), though Sugiyama was not complicit in the man’s death (from an overdose of sleeping pills).

There’s not much of a family (only the marital dyad) to crumble, as in other Ozu films coscripted by Noda Kogo, just a marriage on the rocks in very unoriginal ways (the negligent and now-straying husband).

I didn’t want to spend more time with these dissatisfied characters or see what happened to rehabilitate the Sugiyama marriage. Indeed, I thought the movie’s 144-minute running length far too long. It was particularly slow in getting started and (for me) undercut by sentimental music, including two renditions of “Auld Lange Syne” at Sugiyama’s farewell dinner. This made me wonder if the studio (house style) rather than Kinoshita was to blame for the sentimental music and group singing in his 1950s movies made at the same studio. (I was surprised that the mixed-sex group on an outing did not sing as they trudged along a countryside road!)

There were exteriors of trains and one of office workers crowding the platform waiting for one, but Ozu did not show the packed interior (after the empty train pulls in). I would have liked to see more of 1957 Tokyo. There is a scene in the office in which the camera moves, but it is generally static, though, as usual in Ozu films, cuts from speaker to speaker keep the movie from seeming visually dull. Still, I find the film dull, even with uniformly good acting.

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

 

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