Yosujiro Ozu's films are primarily about the daily existence of middle class Japanese families in post World War II. Most of them are multi-generational and deal specifically with the changing social and familial fabric of that world.
Early Summer - made in 1951 - is about an unmarried young woman name Noriko who is in her late twenties; something frowned upon in 1950's Japan - who is content in her life working in an office in Tokyo, making enough money to help her family's financial situation and enjoying her free time. But her family fears that she will soon be too old to marry.
Over the course of the film her family worries, nags and cajoles her to consider marriage. As in many Ozu films the family is the one thing that is most prized by all people yet it is the one thing that can also be the cause of problems too. With this idea in mind Ozu uses humor quite well - an example is that the family insist that she marry but once she chooses to do so they don't approve because it will break up the family.
As in all of Ozu's films the framing is impeccably balanced, the shot selection is disciplined and the editing is minimal. But unlike most of his later films Early Summer has a good number of camera tracking shots. Ozu is known for having no camera movements in his films but what's remarkable about this film is the subtle but meaningful movement of his shots. No shot is wasted and no movement is done in a trivial matter.
Early Summer takes a while to establish its plot. Ozu is much more interested in developing the setting, the characters and their lifestyle before he presents any real plot lines. For this reason it is easy to become impatient with an Ozu film especially in today's film world where a quick development of conflict and a swift resolution (as well as fastr edits) are almost required by filmmakers and audiences alike. For this reason I love Ozu's films. His subtly is refreshing yet at the same time upon multiple viewings they reveal so much more than they appear to on the surface.
The film is presented in standard 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The film was shot in black and white and while it looks good it also reveals its age. Quite often too the image seems to pulsate. But it seems to have been restored from a good print because it has a sharp luster to it.
Audio is mono but presented in Dolby Digital 1.0. The film contains a musical track that is mostly Western music and some tinkling bell background sound that adds a tranquil feeling to the film.
The best extra is the commentary track by Donald Richie. There is no better scholar on Japanese films than Richie and he completely holds the attention of the viewer with his comments, insights and facts. There is even a chapter menu selection for his comments. The other extra is a 40 minute conversation called Ozu's Films From Behind the Scenes between three men who worked with Ozu; one is an actor, another a technician and the last a producer. They have many good anecdotes in their conversation. There is also a good essay by David Bordwell (another Ozu expert) and Jim Jarmusch who has a stylistic appreciation for Ozu.
Early Summer is vintage Ozu. All the themes about the clashes of the older and younger generations, the sanctity of the family and the way the individual must sacrifice his or her selfishness to come into the fold and follow tradition are all there. The DVD looks very good and has a wonderful commentary track. Highly recommended.