Welcome to Akira Kurosawa info!  Log in or Register?

Early Summer: Queerness, Hepburn and Gender roles

  •   link

    Ugetsu

    I found two particular sub-plots of the film quite striking, especially in the context of some criticisms of Ozu, that his films were ultimately highly conservative and patriarchal – for example, Mellen states in relation to the film that:

    Noriko herself seems to chose this man precisely because she, disliking what she clearly recognises as the serfdom of marriage, will be more secure in an arrangement between friends rather than lovers. (P.256)

    In our discussion of Late Spring, we had an interesting thread on the apparent asexuality of Setsuko Hara’s portrayal of Noriko. What I found striking on second viewing of Early Summer is not just that Noriko’s apparent sexual ambiguity is suggested to the audience, but it is directly discussed by the characters. On first viewing, I thought the suggestion by several characters jokingly that Noriko ‘didn’t like men’ was just a slight tease, meaning just what they meant – she didn’t like the idea of sharing her life with a man. But at 1:20 in the film, her best friend Aya discusses her with Noriko’s boss and (apparently also) friend, Sotaro. The conversation in the office goes as follows (following the subtitles of course:

    Aya: What about Noriko?

    Sotaro: What about her?

    Aya: About marrying him.

    Sotaro: She hasn’t said anything yet.

    Aya: I see.

    Sotaro: Will you ask her about it?

    Aya: Me?

    Sotaro: Yes. I don’t understand her

    Aya: What do you mean?

    Sotaro: Is she interested in men?

    Aya: What do you think?

    Sotaro: Sometimes she seems to be, and sometimes she doesn’t. Has she always been like that?

    Aya: Yes

    Sotaro: Has she ever been in love?

    Aya: I don’t think so. But she has an album of Katherine Hepburn albums this thick *indicates very thick*

    Sotaro: Who’s Hepburn?

    Aya: An American actress.

    Sotaro: A woman?

    Aya: Yes

    Sotaro: Is she queer?

    Aya: No way!

    Sotaro: You can never know, she’s very strange in any case. Why don’t you teach her?

    Aya: About what?

    Sotaro: Everything

    Aya: What do you mean, everything?

    Sotaro: Don’ try to be coy.

    Aya: Don’t talk to me like that!

    Sotaro: *laughs*

    Aya: That was rude!

    Sotaro: Was it? Sorry.

    There is then an exchange where she pretends to be in a bit of a huff, but still accepts his offer of going out for sushi.

    Now maybe recent claims about Katherine Hepburns sexuality were on my mind, but this scene seemed to me to be similar to many of the more worldly American films at the time where film makers played around with having obviously gay characters in a way which evaded censorship at the time – and were also I think playing with the notion that a clued in audience got exactly what they were saying, while the more straight ‘regular’ film makers were oblivious. An example I saw recently was Otto Premingers Laura (1944), where two of the three suitors for the heroine were very obviously (to modern eyes), gay. And this was no doubt deliberate. And I think its fair to say that Katherine Hepburn’s slightly masculinity charisma was frequently used in this way. So far as I’m aware, it would have been common ‘inside’ knowledge within Hollywood that certain actors were gay – how much this knowledge would have spread to a probably gay film maker like Ozu, I can only guess. But there certainly does seem to be a bit of a sly knowing wink at the audience (or maybe just gay people in the audience) in choosing Hepburn as Noriko’s idol. It does seem to me that this scene is both playing on the possibility of Noriko possibly being a lesbian (especially, as with Late Spring, she plays the character in a distinctly boyish manner, at least to my eyes), but also Ozu was playing a little in joke on the audience, skipping around rumours of the sexuality of various stars, aware that some members of the audience would be more in on the joke than others.

    I can’t comment on how the audience would have reacted to the suggestion, however oblique, that Noriko was a lesbian (and I know next to nothing about attitudes at the time in Japan to lesbians), but given that we see the same hints in Late Spring, I wonder if Ozu was really playing a game with his audience, or perhaps also gently dropping in the suggestion to the audience that not everyone wants a heterosexual marriage. While it may be said that the film may have been slightly disapproving of the two Noriko’s reluctance to wed (unlike Tokyo Story’s Noriko), choosing such a well loved star as Hara to play her would I assume be a ‘signal’ to the audience that the character deserved sympathy and empathy.

    This brings me to the second sub-plot that intrigued me, which may or may not be linked to this.

    I’m fascinated by Kenkichi’s reaction to being presented by his mother with what amounted to a fait accompli that he would marry Noriko. At 1:30, he is almost completely unreadable when his excited mother, Tami Yabe tells him of his marriage, and she rides roughshod over any thought he may not want to:

    Tami: You see, I told her what was on my mind, it was good that I did, I didn’t think she would accept.

    Kenkichi: What is this about?

    Tami: She accepted

    Kenkichi: Accepted what?

    Tami: Don’t you understand? She agreed to marry you. To become your wife!

    Kenkichi: My wife?

    Tami: Yes. Isn’t it wonderful? I’m so happy for you. *cries* I’m crazy with joy! You must be happy too. I’m really glad for you.

    Kenkichi: *impassive* Then stop crying.

    Tami: I can’t help it. If you’re happy, then show it. You are happy, aren’t you?

    Kenkichi: Yes, I’m happy *he doesn’t look very happy, he stares at the mat*

    Tami: Then show it, you don’t have to hold back. *slaps him on the arm* What an odd boy you are.

    Kenkich rubs his hands nervously, still staring downward with an odd look on his face

    Now, apart from being quite funny, what strikes me about this scene is that Kenkichi’s role in the home has been completely overturned from the previous scene in the Yabe household. In that, he came home with the news of his promotion and started nervously explaining to Tami the consequences, and asking her agreement. Then, he stopped and insisted that they were all going. Its as if he was thinking ‘What am I doing asking my mothers permission? I’m a grown man with a little daughter to look after, I’ve just been given a once in a lifetime opportunity in my career, of course I have to do it’. It seemed to me like he was taking control of the household from his mother. And now here he is, being bullied by his mother into a marriage. He has, in effect, been emasculated by the women in his life.

    Now I may be mis-reading his reaction. Its impossible I think to say from what we’ve seen whether his silence on been told the news means that he is a little embarrassed at having his mother do this, but secretly delighted that the woman he’s always loved from afar is to be his wife, or whether he is simply dumbstruck with the way his life has been manipulated this way. But either way you look at it, his role as man of the house has been well and truly undermined.

    Now if you take this scene in two contexts – first, within the film, where Kenkichi is seen by Noriko’s family as being somewhat ‘soiled goods’ in that he had a wife and has a daughter, and that he is possibly being pushed unwillingly into a marriage, Kenkichi seems, within the broader context of films made by the likes of Mizoguchi and Naruse, to be taking the role of the downtrodden female, considered a second class citizen because of past sexual history, and generally treated as a commodity for the marriage market. Except of course he’s a man. So we see what is commonly thought of as the patriarchal, misogynistic structures of Japanese society played out, but the ‘victim’ is a regular man, which is something that would be hard to imagine portrayed in a film by Mizoguchi or Naruse or similar.

    This may have been accidental, but I can’t help thinking that this is a deliberate twist by Ozu. Was he subtly satirizing Mizoguchi’s downtrodden heroines in the form of Kenkichi? You could easily imagine a Mizoguchi heroine being rejected for marriage because of her child, then forced by her father into marrying the possibly gay man next door for the sake of appearances. Or was Ozu more generally just looking, as usual, at the Japanese family in all its complexity, but this time showing (perhaps not entirely approvingly), the women being bright, aggressive and in charge, with an increasingly emasculated Japanese male?

    Now I know the two elements of the film I’ve introduced here may not be connected, but I can’t help feeling that there is more to this film than the usual portrayal of the middle class Japanese family. It seems to me to be laden with humourous winks at sexuality (much more light-heartedly than the ambiguities of Late Spring’s Noriko), and subtle gender role inversions. Was he perhaps signalling his concerns at the blurring of gender roles in post war Japan, or was this more an example of a bohemian gay man playing little games with his rather straight-laced audience?

      link

    Longstone

    Ugetsu , I don’t know if you have the Criterion version of this film but I initially watched the BFI Bluray which is the best quality but then re watched the film on the Criterion disc to listen to the Donald Richie Commentary . He discusses the first scene you quote and the Sushi reference at the end is Ozu’s colourful way to emphasis the bosses questioning of Noriko’s and possibly even Aya’s sexuality (given they are both single and best friends). Apparently he asks Aya is she wants to join him for sushi and if she would prefer raw clam or a rice roll . Thus Ozu is accentuating the bosses crude humour by using sushi based imagery that japanese viewers would have understood and found amusing.

    Clearly the inference or joke is that if your a woman you’ve reached the age of ( 28 ? ) , your still single and claiming not to be interested in marriage then perhaps your not interested in men at all. However this is coming from her boss who could easily be the type to crack those kind of jokes in the work place.

    One thing to remember perhaps when considering films about single women , marriage etc. from this period is the extremely huge effect of the war which had only finished six years previously . So many young men were killed that there simply must have been a shortage of potential suitors for any family hoping for a good future for their daughter . This must have created all sorts of pressure for different social groups and been an alien situation where single women were suddenly much more common than they had been before. Thus handing extra depth to writers, film makers and creators of workplace jokes exploring themes of marriage and/or sexuality.

    I think in this post war setting Ozu is making all sorts of small statements ( via the different characters personalities) about the status of both single and married young people , the varying attitudes to them and the conflicts between old and modern ( western/occupation? ) ideas including thoughts on sexuality . I suspect a lot of it is much more subtle than a non Japanese viewer could understand. It’s always interesting to try to interpret the uniqueness of japanese etiquette and tradition in film but I think it’s made even more complicated in the post war setting .

    Interesting point about Ozu’s choice of Setsuko Hara as Noriko if he was trying to make some kind of subtle statement . Especially given from the available biographical information in English she has never married and was never publicly known to have had a boyfriend which was even more unusual for a Japanese star of her status . This presumably meant that in real life she was subject to the same speculation and maybe even workplace jokes as Noriko.

      link

    Vili Maunula

    Ah, it seems that you beat me to it, Ugetsu.

    I finished the post below last evening, yet decided to give it a final read-through in the morning before posting. But now that you were faster to post, I’ll just add it as a response here. I’m actually not sure how much new it offers, since we seem to have been treading down very much the same paths.

    Early Summer: Sexuality and marriage (and life)

    Satake: Is she interested in men?

    Aya: What do you think?

    S: Sometimes she seems to be, and sometimes she doesn’t. Has she always been like that?

    A: Yes.

    S: Has she ever been in love?

    A: I don’t think so. But she used to have an album of Katharine Hepburn photos this thick.

    S: Who’s Hepburn?

    A: The American actress.

    S: A woman?

    A: Yes.

    S: Is she queer?

    A: No way!

    S: You can never know. She’s very strange, in any case. Why don’t you teach her?

    A: About what?

    S: Everything.

    (Early Summer, BFI edition, 01:17:10-01:17:45)

    This scene from Early Summer is quite interesting, as it directly addresses a question about Noriko’s sexuality which her actions in the film have up until that point given rise to, just like the actions of her doppelganger Noriko did in Late Spring (see our earlier discussions here and here). While some may see this exchange as a good-natured wink from Ozu’s part, my belief is that Noriko’s sexuality is in fact at the very centre of what is going on in the film.

    A note about the translation: I am using the BFI translation here, as it seems more accurate than the Criterion translation file that I found online. The Criterion (at least the file that I have) makes a number of small mistakes in this brief scene, for instance by referring not to Katherine but Audrey Hepburn, who was practically unknown in 1951 (the actual Japanese line only says “Hepburn”). Despite my relatively poor Japanese, I would also like to make a couple of other points: Firstly, when Aya mentions that Noriko used to have an album of Hepburn photos, I think that she specifically mentions that she had them when she was in school, and Aya also more specifically says that Noriko likes or loves (the Japanese word suki can mean both) Hepburn. Secondly, the word translated as “queer” in the BFI is I think hentai (変態性欲), which translates as something like “abnormal sexuality” or “sexual perversion” and I think also covers homosexuality. Note that the term is not to be confused with the English word hentai, which obviously etymologically comes from the Japanese term, but has undergone a semantic shift to refer to pornographic anime or manga.

    So, is the Noriko of Early Summer hentai? I don’t think that the film really answers this question, but the very fact that it teases us with Noriko’s sexuality is quite interesting. In the dialogue quoted above, her interest in men is questioned twice (“Is she interested in men?”, “Is she queer?”), and although Aya immediately denies the possibility of non-heterosexual orientation, her manner of doing so isn’t entirely convincing. Satake himself doesn’t seem entirely persuaded, and the quoted section ends with a double entendre of sorts, with the exact nature of the sexual education suggested by Satake open for anyone’s interpretation, especially considering that Aya herself has no husband and, unless I’m mistaken, is not mentioned to have had one.

    It is also rather interesting that it should be Katharine Hepburn who makes an appearance here, mirroring Gary Cooper’s similarly non-physical appearance in Late Spring. Hepburn, of course, was one of the foremost early Hollywood pant-wearing feminist icons, and speculation about her sexual orientation begun very early on in her career, continuing today even despite her well-documented (heterosexual) affairs.

    I don’t therefore think that the Hepburn photos were intended simply as a throw-away comment, or a mere cinema reference. Although we never actually see a photograph in the film, pictures play an important part in the story. On at least three separate occasions photographs become central to the events of the film, and every time they seem to silently communicate Noriko’s preferences or wishes. The Hepburn photos, possibly representing Noriko’s idealised woman and/or lover, are the first set. In contrast, we later have photos of the man offered to Noriko as a husband candidate by her boss. Noriko, however, appears to have absolutely no actual interest in seeing these photos, or indeed the man himself.

    The third set of photos is made at the end of the film when the family is photographed together. Here, Noriko suggests that an additional photo should be taken of her parents, suggesting that she wishes to retain a visual memory of her parents’ marriage now that she herself is to walk down that path. The short exchange of words before this final picture is taken is interesting:

    Noriko: You look wonderful together.

    Father: Don’t make fun of us.

    Mother: It’s been years since the last time.

    (01:52:30-01:52:40, BFI)

    While the intended reference here is probably “the last time we were in a photo together” (although this is not exactly true as they have just been photographed with the family), the exchange is quite enigmatic, and provided that the translation is accurate, the exact meaning of “the last time” allows for additional interpretations, including a sexual one. If seen in this way, the comment may (perhaps with a considerable leap of imagination) be read as commentary on sexuality and marriage, a topic that I will get to in a moment. Before this, however, let us stay with Noriko for a moment longer.

    Given that it is a topic verbally raised in the film itself, I am obviously not the first person to question Noriko’s sexual orientation. A quick search online suggests that it is a topic that many have briefly thought about, although the only more thorough exploration of the subject that I could uncover is by Michael E. Grost, who interprets Early Summer as nothing less than a lesbian love story between Noriko and her mother-in-law-to-be.

    While I am not sure what to make of Grost’s rather bold take on Ozu and Early Summer, the idea of a romantic link between Noriko and Tami could certainly help to explain a few scenes. One of these is the scene of proposal, where strictly speaking it indeed is not her husband-to-be but her husband-to-be’s mother Tami who proposes to her. The dialogue in the scene is quite interesting:

    Tami: Actually… I hope you won’t be offended, and please don’t tell Kenkichi.

    Noriko: What is it?

    T: Well… I know it’s an impossible dream but I just wish Kenkichi had got married to someone like you. That’s what I thought.

    N: Really?

    T: I’m sorry. It’s just a wish in my heart. Please don’t be angry with me.

    N: Do you mean it?

    T: What?

    N: Do you really feel that way about me?

    T: Forgive me, I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.

    N: You wouldn’t mind an old maid like me? Then I accept.

    T: Really?

    N: Yes.

    (01:22:30-01:24:00, BFI)

    What is quite interesting here is Tami’s expectation that her wish would somehow anger Noriko, although this may simply be a manner of speaking which translates poorly. But it also appears meaningful that Noriko asks Tami whether she feels “that way” about her and whether she “wouldn’t mind an old maid” like her. This emphasis seems to be present also in the original Japanese. No one appears to care what Kenkichi thinks, as if he is not really part of what in actual fact is being discussed in the scene. (Or, we are alternatively seeing a glimpse of a strong role reversal here, where two post-war women take full control over their households, up to the point where they decide about what type of configurations those households should take.)

    Another scene which benefits from Grost’s interpretation is the one where, earlier on, Kenkichi tells Tami about his plan to accept the vacant post in Akita. Tami’s silent grief and anger in hearing this news is excellently portrayed by Haruko Sugimura, but its intensity is a little surprising, unless this news has put her in danger of losing someone really important. It may not be a coincidence that this scene is immediately followed by the one where Noriko’s sexual orientation is questioned by Satake.

    There are of course other equally valid ways of reading these scenes, and ultimately I don’t think that the film intends to definitely answer the question about Noriko’s sexual preferences, purposely leaving space for speculation and different interpretations. What nevertheless definitely seems to be present is the underlying theme of sexuality. I would like to suggest that this is done in order get the audience to think about the role of gender and sexuality within the context of marriage.

    Sexuality was also a fairly major part of Late Spring. Early on in that film, Noriko condemns her father’s friend as filthy for remarrying. Later she regrets having said that. Meanwhile, her husband-to-be is described fairly exclusively in sexualised terms, as pretty much the only thing that we know about him is that he bears a strong resemblance to Gary Cooper. In Late Spring, marriage seems to be fairly straightforwardly linked to sex.

    While marriage is linked with sexuality also in Early Summer, Ozu’s later film problematises the connection to a much greater extent, and in doing so provides a more complex exploration of the relationship between the two. For one, Noriko of Early Summer certainly does not appear to marry in order to satisfy a sexual need. On the contrary, it seems that Noriko’s choice of a partner in the film is in fact governed by the possibility of avoiding sex (at least of the heterosexual kind).

    Early Summer presents Noriko with two husband candidates. One of them is described as a potentially good-looking, well-to-do, unmarried man who has lived abroad and is a possible virgin. It seems to be implied that his primary goal in finding a wife is to settle down, establish a family and have children.

    Noriko’s other candidate is Kenkichi, who appears to have no particular romantic interest in Noriko. Kenkichi is a widowed man with a child and a strong focus on his career. He does not have the financial means available to Noriko’s other husband candidate. If he is looking for anything, it would appear to be someone to raise his daughter with. While nothing in the film suggests that Noriko’s marriage with him will be sexless, it seems clear that of the two candidates, it is Kenkichi with whom Noriko would have a less physical relationship with. In conversation with her sister on the beach, Noriko herself mentions that she has put a lot of thought into the subject of raising Kenkichi’s child and the possibility of having her own child with him. We do not, of course, know the exact nature of that thought process.

    It is usually suggested, echoing Bordwell’s view expressed in Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema, that Noriko practically marries into family here. I suspect that this indeed is precisely Noriko’s reasoning for choosing Kenkichi. As her late brother’s best friend, she sees Kenkichi as something of a brother-substitute, and possibly assumes that the feeling is mutual.

    If Noriko doesn’t marry for sex, she certainly doesn’t marry for romantic love, either.

    Aya: So you did love him.

    Noriko: No, it wasn’t like I was in love with him. I’d known him well since childhood, and I knew I could trust him.

    A: That means you love him.

    N: No, it’s different. It’s the feeling of being totally at ease with him. Don’t you understand?

    A: If that’s not being in love, what is?

    N: No, it’s not.

    A: Yes, it is. You’ve fallen in love with him. You’re in love.

    N: Am I?

    A: Yes, you are.

    (01:39:00-01:40:10, BFI)

    Noriko looks disappointed at the end of this exchange, clearly sceptical about accepting Aya’s definition of love. Noriko’s own preferred definition is probably closer to another view, offered to us earlier on in the film. Unlike Aya’s take, this one is not based on the lack of something (lack of tension), but rather on the presence of something.

    Grandfather: Here’s a treat for you. Here. You love your grandpa?

    [Grandson: mmm]

    GF: Very much?

    GS: Very much.

    GF: Really? Here.

    GS: I love you.

    GF: Here.

    GS: I love you.

    GF: Here.

    GS: I love you.

    GF: That’s enough.

    GS: I hate you.

    GF: Hey!

    GS: I hate you very much!

    GF: Stop it!

    (00:09:45-00:10:20, BFI)

    The suggestion encoded into this admittedly rather comical scene is that love, or at least certain kind of love, is dependent on the act of giving and taking. When this exchange ends, so does this kind of love.

    Ultimately, what Noriko chooses to marry for is convenience, or “the feeling of being totally at ease with” his partner. And looking at the other marriages in the film, this seems to be case also elsewhere, both in the marriage of Noriko’s parents and that of her sister. Marriage and family are presented as something separate from love, passion or sexuality. It is a social and financial arrangement of convenience.

    Yet, by choosing to start a family with Kenkichi, Noriko effectively breaks up her old family. What she has gained in her personal convenience the rest of the family has lost in theirs. Arguably, this would not have been the case had Noriko chosen the other husband candidate, who not only would have kept Noriko in Tokyo, but whose money would probably have been able to help Noriko’s family as well. It seems important that Noriko’s choice is dictated not by common good, but by personal good.

    On this note, I have wondered about the caged birds in the numerous establishing shots for scenes that take place in the family house. I am not sure what exactly is caged there. Youth that is still dependent on her family? An independent woman who is forced by tradition into marriage? Choice of partner dictated by common good? Sexuality in marriage? Something else? Or just birds?

    Post note: This has been one of the most challenging posts that I have so far attempted to write for the film club. I have worked on this for a week, gone forward and backward with certain concepts and ideas, totally changed my mind about the significance of specific details, erased sections only to rewrite them again the next day, and in general struggled to make sense of what on the surface looks like a very straightforward family drama, but which at the end of the film leaves open quite a number of threads. I am still far from satisfied with my conclusions and observations, but I wanted to post something, partly to hear your reflections, and partly simply to give myself at least some kind of closure with the topic.

    In the end, there is such a great richness of topics to explore in the film, so many seemingly insignificant moments which after closer scrutiny appear to potentially hold the key, a key, or a set of keys with which to open doors to new interpretations. Whenever I think that I have put the pieces together for a possible understanding, I discover a new piece, which complicates things. Early Summer is one slippery bastard, always at least one step ahead of me.

    But then again, so is life.

      link

    Vili Maunula

    Ugetsu: Was he subtly satirizing Mizoguchi’s downtrodden heroines in the form of Kenkichi? … Or was Ozu more generally just looking, as usual, at the Japanese family in all its complexity

    My post above doesn’t directly touch on this question, so I thought that I would add my thoughts about this here. My own interpretation is that Ozu is looking at the Japanese family structure, rather than attempting to comment on the themes of his contemporaries. However, I am probably funnelled into this interpretation mainly because for one thing this is what I expect from Ozu, and secondly because I still don’t have a good enough understanding of Mizoguchi or Naruse to be able to pick up on connections like the one you suggest here.

    However, if Kenkichi had been intended as a male version of Mizoguchi’s fallen/falling women, it seems to me that he should have been given a little more screen time. As the film is, however, he is very much on the periphery here, especially considering that he ends up being the husband of the main character, and the film is about finding a husband for her.

    Longstone: One thing to remember perhaps when considering films about single women , marriage etc. from this period is the extremely huge effect of the war which had only finished six years previously. So many young men were killed that there simply must have been a shortage of potential suitors for any family hoping for a good future for their daughter.

    This is an interesting point. While Japanese losses were not particularly large when compared to other major countries (about 4% of the population against 14% in the USSR, 16% in Poland, 9% in Germany), they seem to have been mainly military deaths, as the war never really got to the Japanese islands, apart from bombings (including nuclear) towards the very end.

    A Google Answers post that I found refers to Irene B. Taeuber & Frank W. Notestein’s “The Changing Fertility of the Japanese” (Population Studies, Vol. 1, No. 1.; Jun., 1947), saying that “During and after the war, the male to female ratio changed from 100.6 men per 100 female in 1935 to 95.4 male per [100] female in 1947.”

    It would be interesting to know what that change was if we consider only individuals in the 20-30 age group.

      link

    Ugetsu

    Longstone

    I don’t know if you have the Criterion version of this film but I initially watched the BFI Bluray which is the best quality but then re watched the film on the Criterion disc to listen to the Donald Richie Commentary . He discusses the first scene you quote and the Sushi reference at the end is Ozu’s colourful way to emphasis the bosses questioning of Noriko’s and possibly even Aya’s sexuality (given they are both single and best friends). Apparently he asks Aya is she wants to join him for sushi and if she would prefer raw clam or a rice roll .

    I only have the BFI version, it has no commentary. I must admit I’ve done very little reading about this film, so I’m not really up to date on what the usual suspects have written about it. I have to admit that the clam and roll reference went right past me! I should have guessed it was a double entendre. It makes the scene even funnier. Although I must admit I’m a little confused about the relationship between Aya and Satoko – it is implied that they are very old friends?

    One thing to remember perhaps when considering films about single women , marriage etc. from this period is the extremely huge effect of the war which had only finished six years previously . So many young men were killed that there simply must have been a shortage of potential suitors for any family hoping for a good future for their daughter . This must have created all sorts of pressure for different social groups and been an alien situation where single women were suddenly much more common than they had been before. Thus handing extra depth to writers, film makers and creators of workplace jokes exploring themes of marriage and/or sexuality.

    This occurred to me too – I’ve read a few articles about how family relationships in parts of eastern Europe fundamentally changed in the aftermath of WWII because there was a huge shortage of men. But I’ve never seen the same thing stated about Japan. Vili’s link here is interesting – it does remind us that for all the appalling nature of the Pacific War, demographically it didn’t make a huge difference, unlike in parts of central and Eastern Europe where the death rate was simply staggering in its scale. I think an additional complication in Japan is that the death rate was not so sexually imbalanced. While of course deaths at the front were overwhelmingly male, a high proportion of civilian deaths were so far as I know skewed towards younger women, as I understand that teenaged boys were mostly moved to rural areas in preparation for military training. Certainly the victims of Hiroshima were primarily young females, as schoolgirls were often sent out in the day to clear firebreaks. Some I’m not sure if the demographic imbalance was so fundamental as to impact on social relations. Another factor of course in Japan (as we saw in Tokyo Story) was the general societal pressure on widows not to remarry, which may have released some of the competition for available young men. But I don’t know the figures for sure.

    @Vili, I think I should have waited before posting, your thoughts on the issue are far more advanced than mine!

    I think that the notion that Noriko may have welcomed to some degree a sexless marriage is indeed an unspoken issue in this film (as with Late Spring). Having said that, I think the film does leave open the interpretation to the romantically inclined that Noriko and Kenkichi were always in love, just too shy to express themselves (that would be one explanation for why Noriko was so quick to say ‘yes’ and Kenkichi was so dumbstruck on being told the news). While that article you link to is interesting, I think its going way too far to suggest that her relationship with Kenkichi’s mother is in any way sexual, although the faint suggestion that it may be so is interesting. Certainly, Tami seems anxious to have a friend with her in her new life, but this is entirely understandable, even if there is a suggestion that she is being a little underhand in her methods.

    Vili

    However, if Kenkichi had been intended as a male version of Mizoguchi’s fallen/falling women, it seems to me that he should have been given a little more screen time.

    I was thinking that it was less a full on satire, more a gentle little swipe at the type of film being made. Much as I admire Naruse and Mizoguchi, I find that sometimes they are a little didactic when dealing with these issues – their male characters are often little more than crude stereotypes as they heap their attention (and suffering) on their female characters. While of course Mellen and others have argued that Ozu was in some ways a propagandist for paternalistic power structures, I’m less and less convinced of this the more I see the films. I do think he was meticulous in balancing out and humanising all his characters, so I can’t help feeling he might have been tempted to poke fun at his more didactic fellow directors. Its just a guess of course, it seems hard to prove one way or another.

    But I would say that like you, Vili, I’m having a hard time dealing with this film, it is incredibly rich and complex and every interpretation I come up with for it, an immediate counter-explanation comes up. It is, I think, just like real family life.

      link

    Longstone

    I saw a documentary on NHK World T.V. about the Boys of Manchuria . This dealt with teenage boys , younger than normal military age that were recruited and sent to Manchuria to learn to be farmers and settlers because many of the men of fighting age had already gone off to service.

    It lead me to wonder if the extended period of action prior to WW2 in addition to Japan’s entry into the main war and the attempt to settle Manchuria could have depleted a larger percentage of men in the late teen/early twenties age group by the end of 1945. Of course this was just an assumption on my part and it would be interesting to find some more factual analysis.

    In addition I guess I was subconsciously referencing films like 24 eyes with scenes of youths leaving for war and many not returning.

    It’s a good point that the fire bombing of major cities late in the war could have had a larger number of female victims due to the men being away .

    I think it’s one of the attractions ( and the genius) of Ozu that from what at first appear to be the simplest of stories a large amount of depth and detail is revealed on repeated viewings .

    It’s said Ozu worked on dialog first when they were script writing and drinking dozens of bottles of sake , I can just imagine the scene when Ozu and Noda came up with the clam sushi joke after their umpteenth bottle!!

    I really like this film but as you both say when you try to interpret it fully it really does make you think. As you said Vili in your initial introduction it’s perhaps what is left out or left unseen that makes it even more complex and open to interpretation .

      link

    Longstone

    Ugetsu , regarding the relationship between Aya and Satake , he is a regular customer at Aya’s mothers restaurant/bar and Aya collects his bar tab from him at work where her best friend also happens to be his secretary so I assume they have built up banter because of the combination of these two facts. However as always it’s left unsaid if there is more to it than this.

    The commentary touches on this by explaining that it was customary not to charge regular customers actually at the restaurant but to collect their tab from them ( presumably once a month ? ) .

Viewing 7 posts - 1 through 7 (of 7 total)



Leave a comment

Log in or Register to post a comment!