The End of Summer (1961) 小早川家の秋

Language: Japanese
Runtime: 103 minutes
Director: Yasujirō Ozu
Starring: Ganjiro Nakamura, Setsuko Hara, Yōko Tsukasa
Theme: Romance

Ratings: IMDB: 8.0/10
Film Festivals: 12th Berlin International Film Festival (1962)
Nominated: 1962 Berlin Film Festival – Golden Berlin Bear

The End of Summer is Ozu’s penultimate film, succeeded only by An Autumn Afternoon (1962) before his untimely death of cancer in 1963. Following his forte of capturing realism through his camera lenses, The End of Summer is as down-to-earth as any of his earlier films, albeit with a comedic twist as he puts a spin on the common societal notion of marriage. Unlike most of his earlier films that is set in Tokyo, The End of Summer breaks this norm by being set in Kyoto and Osaka, with picturesque scenes in the Japanese countryside.

As mentioned, marriage takes centerstage in this movie, and in particular the themes of philandering and matchmaking. The protagonist is an elderly man with three daughters, Manbei Kohayagawa, who is also the head of a small sake brewery on the verge of a takeover. He tries to matchmake his youngest daughter, whilst he constantly and secretly sneaks out of home to meet his old flame Sasaki, a former mistress who has a grown-up Westernized daughter (whose Westernization is emphasized through her desire for a mink stole – “I’ll only consider him as my father if he buys me that mink stole”) who may or may not be Manbei’s own – a question that Ozu keeps audiences guessing throughout without providing a clearcut answer. Manbei has a weak heart, and survived an initial heart attack whilst at a memorial service for their late mother. However, he dies shortly after another heart attack on a secret trip with Sasaki, who then informs his daughters of what happened. Instead of a subsequent bust-up, we see the two families uniting in grief over the loss of their loved one, culminating in a final cremation scene as the family gathers and reminisces.

Cultural and sociological elements abound, with a reference to baseball at 05:16, the most popular sport in Japan. A character is also obsessed with collecting paraphernalia relating to the “ox”, a throwback to the year 1961 which incidentally was also the Year of the Ox according to the Japanese zodiac. We see a child being tuitioned in Mathematics, a sign that education has taken on huge significance within the forward-looking and progressive Japanese society. It is worthy to note that unlike Chinese cultures that consider the crow to be an inauspicious creature, crows are considered the Messengers of the Gods in Japanese culture and is accorded high respect in traditional ceremonies. This symbolism is evident within the final few minutes of the film, when the camera cuts away from the funeral procession that is marching across the bridge set on clear picturesque waters to land on a still shot (1:38:05) where five crows rest upon a small strip of land, followed by a cutaway to two crows resting on graves at 1:38:09. All this is juxtaposed against philosophical messages that were uttered in previous frames, like “New lives follow the old. This is the law of nature”.

We can infer from the scene from 16:27 a polarization of the gender classes of Japanese society at that point of time, or a cultural tradition at the very least, as the males and females are sitting on opposite sides of the dining table at the farewell ceremony of sorts. We get non-diagetic sound of a traditional folk song being sung in the background, before the camera cuts into the scene.

Standard cinematic semiotics apply, as the camera centrals on a particular female character through a medium shot with only her gaze directed at the male character (18:07), after the male’s glance towards the general direction. We can sense the importance of this relationship even before the context has been established. This is affirmed in the next scene with the two characters sitting by each other at the train station and talk about writing to each other in future.

There is a sharp sence of cinematic framing as light is cast against shadows in the scene at 43:45. The characters’ faces are always lighted up even whilst their bodies may be cast in the dark shadows as they move about. We also note that the camera is on a lower angle, capturing Manbei within the same plane as when he bends down to clean the house – a sign of capturing the humanity of his actions, that he would put aside his patriarchal nature and ego to help out with menial household chores. This is as opposed to a topdown frame that would perhaps mock his actions. Similarly, the entire conversation between the two ladies at 53:06 is captured within the same frame as they kneel down and talk by the river before cutting to a topdown shot only after their conversation has ended. This scene also has a balanced weight among all the objects within the frame.

Ozu has also been credited for perfecting a sense of mono no aware through his films, that is, an empathy toward things or a sensitivity of ephemera. This can be seen in The End of Summer through Manbei’s understated last words: “So this is the end!”

All in all, Ozu’s early experience of dabbling with black & white silent films must have honed his unrivalled sense of geometry and  symmetry, as well as musical rhythms. Lines take precedence in many scenes, which fill the scene and capture attention just by virtue of simple symmetry and geometrical shapes. The traditional Japanese house setting also adds to this through the paneling in its doors, for example. An acute sense of musical rhythms is also seen through the ideal selection of musical tones that complement the mood of the movie, whether the light-heartedness quirkiness of Manbei sneaking away to meet his old flame (22:51), or the heavy atmosphere that surrounds his subsequent death.

The End of Summer (1961) is noteworthy because of Ozu’s nomination for the Golden Berlin Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1962 — his only in one of the Top Three film festivals.  Though ultimately it may not exactly be his most remembered work among his filmography of 54 titles that also consist of Tokyo Story (1952) and I Was Born, But (1932), in a cognizance of the cinephile only in the decades following his death.