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END OF SUMMER, THE (KOHAYAGAWAKE NO AKI) (director/writer: Yasujiro Ozu; screenwriter: Kôgo Noda; cinematographer: Yuharu Atsuta; editor: Yoshiyasu Hamamura; music: Takanobu Saito; cast: Setsuko Hara (Akiko), Chishu Ryu (Farmer), Ganjiro Nakamura (Kohayagawa Manbei), Yôko Tsukasa (Noriko, second daughter), Michiyo Aratama (Fumiko, eldest daughter), Keiju Kobayashi (Hisao, Fumiko’s husband), Masahiko Shimazu (Masao, Hisao’s son), Hisaya Morishige (Isomura), Chieko Naniwa (Sasaki Tsune), Reiko Dan (Yuriko, Sasaki’s daughter), Daisuke Katô (Kitagawa Yanosuke); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Shizuo Yamauchi; Criterion Collection; 1961-Japan-in Japaneses with English subtitles)
“The deft blending of comedy and tragedy.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This Technicolor film is the deft blending of comedy and tragedy; it’s the penultimate film of arguably Japan’s best filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu (“Early Spring”/”Tokyo Story”/”Late Spring”). It’s co-scripted by the director and his regular screenwriter Kôgo Noda. It features the extended Kohayagawa family, who run a small sake brewery in post-war Japan and in failing times are thinking about merging their business with a larger company.

It opens at night; there’s a flashing neon sign in the Osaka skyline proclaiming the ‘New Japan.’ This, of course, signals the film’s theme about change. In a bar sit two nervous middle-aged men, Isomura (Hisaya Morishige), a widowed steel mill owner, and Kitagawa (Daisuke Katô), the brother of the boss of the family run sake brewery and elderly family patriarch Kohayagawa Manbei (Ganjiro Nakamura). Kitagawa is fixing up the businessman with his widowed niece Akiko (Setsuko Hara), without her knowledge. Akiko is a clerk in an art gallery, whose scholarly professor husband died six years ago and left her with a son she dotes on. After briefly meeting Isomura, Akiko rushes home to take care of her son.

The widowed patriarch, Manbei, is still energetic and independent-minded. His errant behavior and delicate condition have alarmed his three daughters, the unmarried youngest one Noriko (Yôko Tsukasa), the married middle daughter Fumiko (Michiyo Aratama) and the eldest Akiko. As of late, Manbei’s reverted to a childlike stage and disappears during business hours without saying where he’s going. Fumiko’s husband, Hisao (Keiju Kobayashi), who is now in charge of running the business, has one of his office workers trail his father-in-law one day and discovers he’s visiting his former mistress Sasaki (Chieko Naniwa), whom he might have fathered with her a now twentysomething daughter called Yuriko (Reiko Dan). She’s a happy-go-lucky typist, who only wants a mink stole from him as a gift and is dating two American blondes from her firm. Fumiko is the most concerned that dad is not acting sensible and is ignoring the business at a time when things are going bad and he’s most needed. The family’s personal concerns are to hook Noriko up with a wealthy suitor, who in turn can help the business, and find a suitable match for the conflicted Akiko.

Manbei has a heart attack, but soon recovers and continues his playful ways and once again sees his old flame. But after taking his mistress to the racetrack and to some nightspots, he succumbs in her apartment. The funeral scene is stunning. There’s smoke coming out of the chimney of the crematorium and the crows are waiting while perched atopthe cemetery gravestones. A peasant lady informs us that someone has died and says “it’s the cycle of life.” There’s a soulful crossing of the bridge by the mourners dressed in black. It signals the old has passed on and it’s now up to the younger generation to make their own way in the world. The father did his job, as he kept the business solvent during his watch and no matter how undependable he was he still managed to keep the family together. It’s now up to the children of the brewer to decide if they want to sell out to a big brewery and the eligible daughters must decide if they want to marry.

Through this trying domestic scene Ozu charts some of the pressing changes in postwar Japan and the altering of Japan’s once rigid traditionalist society. For him, there’s clearly a changing of the guard and the new things on the horizon will undoubtedly replace the old things that can’t satisfy society any longer. Though there’s a bittersweet and unsettling tone to the dramatics, the wily patriarch is cheerfully memorable. He’s quite a character, and his lively antics give the film a wonderfully playful tone. Manbei in his deathbed also gives the film its most poignant moments. When he dies from a heart attack, his mistress says his last words were “Is this it? Is this really it?


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”