A nuanced examination of a family falling apart, Early Summer tells the story of the Mamiya family and their efforts to marry off their headstrong daughter, Noriko, played by the extraordinary Setsuko Hara. A seemingly simple story, it is among the director's most emotionally complex. The Criterion Collection is proud to present one of Ozu's most enduring classics.
Like any of Yasujiro Ozu's best-known films, Early Summer is a marvel of cinematic simplicity, revealing layers of depth through multiple viewings. It may seem at first that Ozu's family tale is too simple, but looks are deceiving, and closer study reveals an intensely structured, highly formalized example of Ozu's transcendental realism, focusing on the dilemma of 28-year-old Noriko (played by the immensely popular Setsuko Hara), whose late-breaking decision to marry sends unexpected shock waves through three generations of her close-knit family. While providing a vivid portrait of liberated womanhood in post-war Japan, this lighthearted yet quietly devastating drama also serves as a gentle study of tradition vs. modernity, and a clash between conformity and independence. It's also a triumph of DVD-as-film-school: As he did for Criterion's release of A Story of Floating Weeds, the distinguished scholar Donald Richie provides an eloquent full-length commentary as valuable as the film itself, thoroughly exploring the purpose of Ozu's low-angle style, the influence of Ernst Lubitsch, the importance of Setsuko as a role model for Japanese girls, stylistic comparison to Jane Austen's fiction, and a variety of other relevant topics. "Ozu's Films from Behind the Scenes" gathers three of Ozu's longtime collaborators for affectionate reminiscence, and mini-essays by Ozu expert David Bordwell and long-time Ozu admirer Jim Jarmusch lend further appreciation from critical and personal perspectives. This is Criterion's fifth Ozu release on DVD, and like the others, it's highly recommended. --Jeff Shannon