wide shot of a young boy and older man sitting serenely next to a cliff and a lone treealr

There Was a Father
(Chichi ariki)

Screening on Film
Directed by Ozu Yasujiro.
With Ryu Chishu, Sano Shuji, Mito Mitsuko .
Japan, 1942, 35mm, black & white, 87 min.
Japanese with English subtitles.
Print source: Janus Films

There Was a Father was a box office success, a Kinema Junpo first prize winner, and the winner of a national policy film award from the Bureau of Information—an indication of Ozu’s popularity during wartime. Though the script was written after The Only Son (1936), it was rewritten several times after Ozu’s military service in China. Like the mother in that earlier film, Shuhei (Ryu Chishu) has dedicated his life to working for his son Ryohei’s education. After a lifetime of being apart, Ryohei (Sano Shuji) wants to quit his difficult job as a teacher and finally live with his father. But Shuhei refuses, insisting that happiness is only possible through the pain of work. On the level of plot and dialogue, the film satisfied government requirements with its patriotic adages and calls to self-sacrifice. But Ozu’s empty spaces, contrasted with shots of Shuhei and Ryohei seated at a distance and beneath harsh lights, convey a painful sense of loneliness reified by Shuhei’s traditional ideals. The film is at once a testament to the endurance of Ozu’s style through history, a step forward in his oeuvre and a convincing work of wartime propaganda.

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