Ozu’s tragicomic penultimate move: “End of Summer”

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Kohayagawa-ke no aki” means “Autumn for the Kohayagawa Family”; the 1961 film is known in English, included in the “late Ozu” Criterion release as “The End of Summer,” but also (despite the frequent mention of the heat and mopping of various brows) as “Early Autumn.” The English-language title of so many Ozu movies of the 1950s and 60s have a season specified that it is difficult for me to remember whether I have seen a particular one or not. “Kohayagawa-ke no aki.” was the second to the last movie he made. The title of the last one, “Sanma no aji” (1962) means “The Taste of Saury” but is known in English as “An Autumn Afternoon.” And the one before “Kohayagawa-ke no aki”, Akibiyori (1960) means “Late Autumn.”

They are all autumnal in the sense of showing patriarchs soon to die. Kohayagawa Manpei (Nakamura Ganjiro), the leprechaun-like (short, jolly, sly, egocentric) widower and owner of a store that probably will have to be acquired by a larger company has restarted visiting a mistress, Sasaki (Naniwa Chieko) with whom he was intimate a few decades earlier, though he is probably not the biological father of the woman’s mercenary daughter, Yuriko (Dan Reiko) who is dating Americans and trying to wheedle her supposed father into buying her a mink stole (despite the heat…)

Manpei’s elder daughter, Akiko (Hara Setsuko), a widow who strikes me as horse-faced though smart and kind, is being fixed up with the owner of a small steel factory, Isomura (Hisaya Morishige). A husband has been picked out for her sister Noriko (Tsukasa Yoko), too, though Noriko is in love with a man whose farewell party before taking a position in Sapporo is shown in the first scene.

Although the running time of “Kohayagawa-ke no aki” is less than that of the other films in the “Late Ozu” set, it moves at a pace I find slow, and I am more used to the pace of classic Japanese films than many others (who complain about the pace of Kurosawa films).

“”Kohayagawa-ke no aki” is more comic, less tragic than some other Ozu movies about getting daughters married. The slyness of Manpei playing with his children’s suspicions provides most of the comedy. His sister is critical of his always having done what he wanted, but his children, even the son-in-law (Hisa: Keiju Kobayashi), trying to keep the business afloat, are tolerant.

Conflicts are muted and one might miss the recurrent Ozu theme about social change, indicated by traditional vs. western dress, greater choice about husbands, declining family solidarity, garish neon signs, and the more capitalist less paternalistic businessmen (the differences are more dramatic in Kurosawa’s “I Live in Fear” form a few years before this movie)..

The movie does not need its epilogue provided by a couple working at the edge of a river and noticing an unusual number of crows about. But a bridge-crossing scene before that is quite beautiful (and a welcome break from interiors shot from cameras only a few feet above the floor, shooting up even at the very short Nakamura Ganjiro.

Being in its “Eclipse” line, there are no bonus features, but the visual (color, 1.33:1 aspect) and audio (mono) transfer are up to the highest Criterion standards.

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

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