a man in a hat and a young boy smiling at each other in a country landscapealr

The Only Son
(Hitori musuko)

Screening on Film
Directed by Ozu Yasujiro.
With Ryu Chishu, Iida Choko, Himori Shinichi.
Japan, 1936, 35mm, black & white, 82 min.
Japanese with English subtitles.
Print source: Janus Films

Ozu’s first talkie sublimates his early work’s broader themes of poverty and education into a refined portrait of a mother and her son. The narrative is told through several shifts forward in time: factory worker Otsune (Iida Choko) strikes son Ryosuke for asking to go to middle school; after a conversation with his teacher (Ryu Chishu), she tearfully decides to work hard for his education. When she visits Ryosuke (Himori Shinichi) in Tokyo thirteen years later, Otsune is appalled to find that he is a night-school teacher. Yet what upsets her the most is that Ryosuke wants to give up. The visit presents the mother and son with the challenge to separate the value of parental sacrifice from the child’s material success. Ozu admitted to have shot The Only Son like a silent film, apparent in the film’s reliance on simple shot-reverse-shots for conversations (nearly all of which take place while characters are seated or squatting), combined with a stationary camera position that allowed for a stationary microphone. The result, however, is an assured masterpiece, which accounts for why its elegant form so closely anticipates that of Ozu’s subsequent films.

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From the Harvard Film Archive Collection …