My article on Yasujiro Ozu’s There Was a Father went up on TCM many weeks ago and it simply slipped my attention in the flurry of SIFF and my recent move. It’s is one of the director’s masterpieces and has never been released on home video in the U.S. (the Japanese DVD is transferred from a poor print and barely adequate), but the recent showing of a restored print on TCM makes me hopeful for an eventual stateside released on DVD.
Yasujiro Ozu has been called the most “Japanese” of Japanese directors because of the restrained style and quietly contemplative tone of his family dramas. And while it is true that the films Ozu directed from the late thirties to the end of his career reflect traditional, conservative Japanese ideals and mores (“restraint, simplicity and near-Buddhist serenity” is how film historian Donald Richie described his cinematic aesthetic), this rather simplistic brand misses a defining component of his films, namely that they are utterly contemporary to their times. Where Akira Kurosawa and Kenji Mizoguchi found international recognition with historical adventures and elegant period dramas about samurai warriors, royal figures, and fallen heroes, Ozu exclusively made contemporary films and set his quietly understated family dramas and comedies in the modest homes and workplaces of everyday citizens trying to make a life for themselves and their children. His films are a veritable survey of Japanese society from the late 1920s to the early 1960s, a society straddling an age-old culture of expectations and codes of conduct on the one hand, and the stresses and demands of the modern world and its international influences on the other.
The story of his 1942 masterpiece There Was a Father is simplicity itself and the direction placid and restrained, but under the gentle rhythms and emotional suppression in the name of duty is a complex portrait of sacrifice and responsibility that is endured with obedience but little reward.
Read the entire piece here.