Returning briefly to Setsuko Hara and Yasujiro Ozu … to celebrate Ms. Hara’s birthday I watched Early Summer (1951) for the fourth or fifth time. Pretty much a perfect film, in my opinion. Revolving around Hara’s Noriko, the film is a very moving portrait of the breaking up of a family, three generations living under the same roof, in the wake of Noriko’s marriage. The nearly two dozen characters are treated with great compassion, and Ozu handles the shifts of tone – from a lazy, vaguely monotonous sort of happiness, to increasing tension as Noriko’s single status takes on greater importance, to disappointment and a hint of anger in the wake of her choice of husband, to a final melancholic peace and reconciliation – with perfection and warmth. The cinematography is gorgeous, and Ozu’s touch is deft and subtle, as always. Plus, the film is a great showcase for Hara, as she shows us why she was such a special screen presence. Please check out this film if you haven’t already. It is worthy to stand aside Late Spring (1949) and the more familiar Tokyo Story (1953), the other two films in what has become known as Ozu’s “Noriko” trilogy, as paragons of the cinematic art.
One of Ozu’s characteristic devices is the “pillow shot,” a shot – of a building, alleyway, landscape, clothes drying on a line, a view out a window, etc. – held for anywhere from one to five seconds. Usually grouped in montages of three or four, the pillow shots provide a moment of stasis in the narrative progress of the film, as well as a transition from one location and/or scene to another. These shots are also often quite lovely compositions in their own right. The Ozu-san website, a fantastic, informative resource on Ozu and his life and art, has been kind enough to collect stills from these pillow shots for a number of his films. They’re well worth seeing.