Ozu is considered by many to be one of the greatest directors that ever lived. His cinematic style is instantly recognizable as are the reoccurring character types, often played by a small band of loyal actors. But probably even more distinctive to Ozu is his slow paced human focused films. Ozu's favorite subject is family relationships.
|One of the most beautiful scenes in the film.|
In the the film 'There Was a Father,' Ozu is especially concerned with the relationship between a father and a son. The main themes of this film are duty, sacrifice and estrangement--as the father Horikawa, played by Ryu Chishu, tries to provide the best life and opportunities for his son, they are increasingly separated.
As I reflected on the film, I realized that Ozu was painting a familiar scene for many in his 1942 audience. Japan was making significant sacrifices, and had for generations, to provide for a better future--but at what cost? Ozu, unable to point critically to the contemporary political and economic situation in his own country, alludes to questions that he doesn't ask and answers that he doesn't give.
|Like Father Like Son|
This conversation though, points to a larger narrative that these two characters are joining in. They are part of a vicious cycle. The father only wants the best for his son, feeling that he himself wasted the investment made by his father in him. So instead of listening to his son's wishes to live together, he sends him to a boarding school and moves to Tokyo to pursue a better financial situation. The unseen grandfather had been a teacher of Chinese classics, Horikawa at the beginning of the film was a middle-school math teacher, by the end of the film, the son is a college-educated chemistry teacher--there is a sense in which Ozu begs the question whether the sacrifices were worth the moderate gains in social advancement.
The emotions in the film were muted, but hopeful--this may have had to do with the need to pass wartime censorship. The only copies we have of this film we now have were edited to remove any patriotic content after the war, so there are a few unnatural transitions.
This story is still poignant and relevant for modern Japan (and the West)--today, more than ever, there is a generational disconnect between parents and their children. The desire to provide good things for their children often pushes parents farther away from those that they want to ensure the future of. This is true at a societal level also--is our pursuit of progress actually undermining the most fundamental human institution, the family?
Ozu is distinctly Japanese--and unlike the films of Wes Anderson or other Western directors, there was no epiphany or resolution by the final curtain. The story was one of self-awareness on behalf of the audience. In fact, I was left with a nagging desire for more resolution and reconciliation by the end. I think that by not offering us a happy ending, Ozu actually accentuates the desire for one.