The Only Son (7/27/12)

Movie One Hundred Seventy Six

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.

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Tokyo Story (5/18/12)

Tokyo StoryMovie One Hundred Twenty Two

Tokyo Story is a seemingly simple film about an elderly Japanese couple that travel to Tokyo to visit their grown-up children.

When the aging couple makes the trip from the county into Tokyo to visit their son and his family, we know nothing of what is to come. When the son and daughter have no time to spend with their parents, the daughter sends them off to a resort. Unhappy with that arrangement, the couple comes back and still find their children unable to make time for them. The widow of their dead son is the only one that can make time for them. Shortly after their return journey, the mother falls ill.

On the surface, Tokyo Story seems like a movie about nothing, but it’s actually an incredibly deep film about relationships, parenthood, adulthood, grief, joy, love, loss, and life. Each character is unique and relatable in their own way. I had two concerns going into Tokyo Story: the Japanese customs would muddle the plot and that the film wouldn’t really go anywhere. For the first half hour or so my concerns remained, especially the latter. Where Tokyo Story ends up is incredibly moving. Ozu has a tremendous talent for making very realistic situations and his style of camera work is unique and completely objective, almost sterile in viewing these relationships. The camera is completely non-manipulative in what is showing to you, allowing the actors to really shine.

When I started watching Tokyo Story I was skeptical. “How is this supposed to be such a great movie?” I thought to myself. By the end, I was a total wreck. Few films absolutely floor me emotionally, but Tokyo Story is possibly the most human, most endearing film I’ve ever seen. At first, what seems like an unremarkable film about a family becomes something truly beautiful.

I give it 5 sitting seasides out of 5.

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