I very much liked the two Ozu films I've seen, Late Spring and Tokyo Story, in spite of some difficulty in adjusting to the mannerisms, especially the vocal mannerisms, of a language and culture so different from mine. As I said when writing about Late Spring back in 2011, it's
a difficulty I've had with other Japanese films made prior to 1960 or so: the facial and vocal expressions are just culturally different enough for me to feel that I'm not quite sure what's going on underneath, not quite connecting as I should.
It's hard to explain, but there often seems to be a disconnect between the sounds I hear and what they seem to mean based on what the character is saying and the expression in the voice.
I've seen Tokyo Story twice, which is at least part of the reason why, after the second viewing, I decided that I like it a little better. But I want to see Late Spring again. Ozu made several films with similar seasonal titles, and I'm working my way through those I haven't seen, which now leaves Early Summer, Early Spring, Late Autumn, and An Autumn Afternoon. That list is in chronological order: Late Spring was made in 1949, An Autumn Afternoon in 1962.
I'm not sure why I picked End of Summer as my next one. Like the other two I've seen, it's a very low-key family drama involving partings of some sort. It seems that Ozu has produced a series of delicate and subtle variations on a modest theme. There is not much "drama" here, using the word in the colloquial half-slang sense that's developed in recent years: no shouting, no weeping, no accusing and demanding. These three films at least are centered on generational connections and their dissolution. This is not violent rebellion, as has been typical of American and European art since at least the '60s, but the quiet relinquishing of ties as time and especially the changing times push or pull families apart. It seems more than likely to me that the changing times are more important than they may seem at an outsider's glance. It's never given more than passing mention, but it seems present in things like the juxtaposition of traditional and modern dress, of street signs and advertisements in Japanese and English ("Drink Coca-Cola!"), of urban and pastoral imagery, and in the rarely-mentioned but significant awareness of the war.
As for the specific film that I sat down to write about: well, for the first half of The End of Summer I didn't like it as well as the other two. That's in great part because I wasn't sure what was going on. The family relationships are more complex, involving more people, and I had trouble keeping track of who was who and exactly how they were related. As far as I noticed, none of this was ever directly explicated. I'll admit that there was an element here of the Westerner sometimes having trouble distinguishing Asian features when they are somewhat similar: I had that problem with two of the three young women, sisters and a sister-in-law, who, to my eyes, looked rather like each other. This is not quite as ethnocentric as it sounds, as I sometimes have the same problem with Euro-American films where there are two characters of the same sex, age, and coloring. (The third young woman was played by Setsuko Haro, whose face is pretty distinctive and memorable.)
The plot involves the misbehavior of the family patriarch (no problem recognizing him) and is mildly comic--only mildly to me, anyway--through the first two thirds of the film. But all around this man's foolish renewal of a past romance with an old flame who's grown cynical (if she was ever otherwise) there is that air of puzzled melancholy as the younger generation wonders what to do with him and with themselves.
Whatever disappointment I felt in that first hour or so was compensated for by the fact that the film is in color. The characteristic long still interior shots are just as they are in the other two works: taken from a couple of feet off the floor, looking down a hallway with people coming and going at the other end, looking from one room into another, looking through a door to outside, from ten or fifteen feet away so the visible area is very small. These views of the characters from a certain distance could have the effect of making theme seem isolated, but they don't work that way for me. Instead, by giving the interiors so much space, the effect is of people very much enclosed and protected within a receptive home. And the color makes one aware of the richness of the houses and furnishings--there's a lot of warm wood--in a way that black and white can't. And as for the exterior scenes--well, the landscapes made me want to visit Japan.
Towards the end I was very much won over. The final twenty minutes or so are as powerful as anything in the other two films, and perhaps even more beautiful. I don't want to spoil the ending for anyone who hasn't seen it and might do so, so I won't say any more. I will certainly be seeing this one again.
I had about decided to cancel my Criterion Collection subscription, as I had gone many months without using it at all. There just didn't seem to be all that much there that I wanted to see, and the app or site or whatever you call it is obsessed with...well, let's just say cultural trends which don't interest me. But recently I made an effort to search out directors like Ozu, and found enough to make the service worthwhile for another few months anyway.
I can't find a trailer online, but YouTube seems to have several copies of the whole film. Must be some sort of copyright gap.