The Only Son is a film about a mother who sacrifices everything for her son’s education and visits him as an adult.
In a small rural Japanese town, widow Tsune (Chôko Iida) is raising her young son Ryosuke. When Ryosuke wants to continue his education into middle school, Tsune is persuaded by teacher, Ookubo (Chishû Ryû), to let him continue. Tsune sacrifices everything financially in order for Ryosuke to make his way through college. In return, all she asks is that Ryosuke grow to be a great man. Years later, Tsune visits Ryosuke (Shin’ichi Himori), who has a family of his own but struggles financially as a night-school teacher, much to his mother’s disappointment.
Earlier this year, I watched a film by Yasujirô Ozu that many consider his finest work, Tokyo Story. That was my first foray into Ozu’s work and I was blown away by the simple story could be so captivating and heart-wrenching. I am pleased to say that The Only Son is also a great film that seems entirely too simple but is so finely crafted that it accomplishes more with very little than most movies could ever hope to. With only a handful of actors, realistic dialog and totally static cameras, The Only Son almost feels like a documentary of a family that doesn’t know they are being filmed.
The magic of Ozu’s films is their simplicity and the emotions they are able to convey. The Only Son makes you want Ryosuke to succeed. You sympathize that this poor woman has literally given up everything to her name in order for Ryosuke to have success in life and while he has a loving wife and young baby, he is not doing the best of his ability in his career. Some of you may be wondering why the importance is placed on a financially successful career being the marker for having a successful life, and I would agree to a point but you have to put yourself in Tsune’s shoes. She is a widowed single mother who becomes homeless, scrubbing floors in a factory, all so her only son can become something great.
I’m sure there are many cultural meanings in The Only Son that I am not picking up on since I am not Japanese, nor do I know what their culture was like in 1936. The film gives little insight into these aspects, but it largely makes no difference since the family themes are universal and timeless. Since I am still new to Ozu, I feel compelled to watch as many of his films as possible because they are so moving and human. The Only Son is his first talkie, but it has held up incredibly well.
I give it 4 scenes from the cover art out of 5.