The End of Summer Review
The End of Summer is a another Ozu family drama, dealing with the lives and loves of the Kohayagawa family – each of them concerned about doing the right thing for the sake of the family. The father Manbei (Ganjiro Nakamura) is a widower, but still vigorous and determined to maintain his own independent lifestyle. He often visits an old flame in Kyoto, causing concern in the family, particularly with his married daughter Fumiko (Michiyo Aratama), that he is not showing enough interest in the family business – a sake production company that is facing financial difficulties. The family also hope to find a suitable match for the old man’s two unmarried daughters, Akiko (Setsuko Hara), a widow and the youngest daughter Noriko (Yôko Tsukasa). The girls have a difficult decision to make between doing what is right for them and what is best for the family.
Yasujiro Ozu’s second to last film is a reflective look at old age, mortality, the loss of traditional ways to a growing western influence, and the emergence of a new generation with different values and new ways of thinking and behaving. It’s very much in tune with themes in other Ozu films, but treated here in a more stately, reverential tone. It is fairly non-judgemental and not particularly nostalgic for the past, seeming to accept that change is not only inevitable, but like death, an integral part of life. The reflective mood of the film is lent some additional weight with another strong performance from Ganjiro Nakamura, so effective in Floating Weeds (1959) and the familiar appearances of Haruko Sugimura and Setsuko Hara (and a lovely cameo from Chishu Ryu), whose constant presence throughout many of Ozu’s major films give this film, I feel, a deeper sense of continuity that makes its sombre and reflective look at growing old and dying all the more real.
Formally, The End of Summer is no less brilliant than any of Ozu’s other films – there are some scenes that personally made me gasp at the stunning composition and colouring – but emotionally it doesn’t reach me the way that many other Ozu films do, lacking the lightness of touch and the warmth that characterises his best work. Of course, the film’s subject is not one that lends itself to such treatment, but Ozu has been more than capable in the past of bittersweet treatment of sombre subject matter. All the ingredients are there and the same characteristics are evident, but not to the same degree of brilliance as other Ozu films.
The picture on the Region 2 release of The End of Summer doesn’t seem as sharp or as defined or as impressive as the other Artificial Eye Ozu release, Floating Weeds, but it is still a pleasing transfer. Colours are strong and the brightness level is fine, but blacks are a little too heavy and dense – there is not much detail there. There is quite a bit of flare throughout down the left-hand side of the frame and some moiré effect on roof-tiles and wooden window slats. The old Agfa colours are pleasantly transferred, and although skin tones seem a little too white (there is a good comparison on DVDBeaver comparing the colours of the Artificial Eye release with the Japanese Region 2) – the overall appearance of the Artificial Eye DVD is more than acceptable. Considering the age of the film there are not a great deal of marks or dust spots – although reel-change marks are quite visible – and there is very little grain evident.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack is fine. It can’t really handle louder levels of sound, with quite a bit of noise and crackle in the higher registers – but it rarely reaches those levels, so is perfectly adequate for the film.
The only extra feature on the Artificial Eye DVD is a filmography for Yasujiro Ozu.
I would hate to categorise The End of Summer as a lesser Ozu film, particularly as it so ambitiously attempts to summarise everything that has led up to it and even looks ahead at a future beyond the world the director knows and has depicted in his films. Perhaps the best way to characterise The End of Summer is as a film not to watch as an introduction to Ozu, but as one to come back to after seeing some of his other work. It will make this film all the more poignant and meaningful. Beautifully filmed and well presented on DVD, The End of Summer is not the best of Ozu, but has all the characteristics of one of cinema’s greatest directors.