Yasujiro Ozu Ben Brewster - Essay

Ben Brewster

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

A great deal happens in [Early Spring], not much of it very remarkable. Of course, the cinema simply cannot avoid a level of detail unattainable in the most painstakingly naturalistic literature. However, the 'suspense' of the main plot of Early Spring, the marital and career problems of Sugiyama and his wife, is reduced not just by an accumulation of details but by the linking of these details across the text into a mass of minor chains of implication…. There is the same calculated casualness in the way important information about the characters, such as the death of the Sugiyamas' child, is introduced late and in fragments—even Masako's name is not mentioned until halfway through the film…. Early Spring is, perhaps surprisingly, considering Ozu's austere reputation, a very ideological film. The advantages and disadvantages of the statuses of 'salaryman', manual worker (tinker, electrician), and independent shop-owner are exhaustively discussed by the men, the position of the wife in the family by the women. The ostensible message is that despite a nostalgia for old, pre-war days, these are now gone forever, and despite the drawbacks of the wife's position, the family is not as cold as the office job. The reason for this is never explicitly discussed, but main plot and subplots, as well as Ozu's other films, suggest that it is children. The only children we see in the film are Onodera's, who call him away from his conversation with Sugiyama at Seta Bridge, the conversation which leads to the reconciliation of Sugiyama and Masako, driven apart by their dead child. And children do not represent a hope for the future; they are condemned in their turn, like Hattori's son, like Koichi, to office jobs or nothing better. Children are simply the compensation for accepting those jobs, all that life offers. The problem here is not that the film purveys a reactionary ideology…. But to provide a progressive reading of Ozu's films, one would have to be able to demonstrate the work involved in the imposition of this ideology. And the trouble is that Early Spring, at least, does not seem to offer very favourable material for this approach. (p. 178)

Ben Brewster, "Retrospective: 'Soshun' ('Early Spring')," in Monthly Film Bulletin (copyright © The British Film Institute, 1976), Vol. 43, No. 511, August, 1976, pp. 177-78.