The Only Son (1936)

29 07 2010

It’s been a reoccuring theme in my most recent entries but yes, I have sort of been “out of the loop” with movies throughout this entire summer. I can’t blame it on being busy as much as being a terrible manager of time. As I’ve mentioned many times on this site, Yasujiro Ozu is my favorite filmmaker of all-time and I don’t see this changing anytime soon. With that said, I can’t even remember when I last watched a film of his. I used to rewatch at least one of his films every week or so, but again, this summer has proved to be one of my least productive periods of movie-watching. I mention this not as a means of getting everyone caught up with my personal life, but to explain my reaction to this film.

No, I didn’t all of sudden find Ozu’s work less fascinating or enjoyable, but I think this film in particular is a little bit more “slow-burning” than the others. Personally, I don’t find any of his films slow (a seemingly dubious comment for casual fans) but this one seems to linger on a little longer, not in a negative way. It’s never tedious or stretched out or anything like that, but it seems to be a bit more poetic and tragic than Ozu’s most Ozu-esque work. The shots seem a little longer, especially in the beginning. Again, I think this might be a result of my inadvertent neglect for Ozu as of late.

For what it’s worth (and it’s not much, for my money) the back of the Criterion DVD does state this film as being “uncommonly poignant” which seems silly since I can’t think of a director whose work is more consistently bittersweet than that of Ozu’s. I think the intention behind the statement is that it’s a bit more poetic or somber than the par for usual. It’s an impossible task to tip-toe around all the buzzwords that people use to describe Ozu (such as “meditative” or “reflective” – I am as guilty of this as anyone) but this effort in particular seems to bit more melancholy.

This is all positive stuff, of course, because after all, I am an Ozu fan for such reasons, but he does seem to be working out the kinks here a little. Maybe some grace should be given on the account that this is his first talking film, but that’s not really fair. Ozu, at least using his films as evidence, probably had one of the easiest transitions from silent to talking pictures. He really didn’t miss a beat from An Inn in Tokyo, his latest surviving silent film to this, his very first talking film. He does give a nod to the monumental transition and it finally making way in Japan in a cute little scene where the protagonist takes his mother to the theater.

All this talk about technical has kind of outweighed the actual extent of the relationships in my head. But make no mistake, this is top-tier Ozu. I was a little thrown off by the fact that the mother had been so distant from her son for such an extended period of time. Everything sort of comes together, though — in fact in a literal way for this family.

There is one extremely noteworthy scene here when the protagonist and his mother get into an argument. It’s one of the few times I can think of an actual argument breaking out in his universe. This scene is so fantastic because the conversation so casually escalates into something dramatic (but not over the top) and it’s not until Ozu cuts to a shot with the camera facing the back of the protagonist’s wife does it hit us that this is actually an argument.

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