Ozu’s The Only Son is as simple a film as I can remember and yet as moving as any that I can recall. Its simplicity mirrors depths, and its honest emotions shine in a dark purity. A widowed mother in a small town devotes her life to paying for her son’s education. After years of not seeing him, she surprises him in a visit to Tokyo. SPOILER ALERT: She finds him an unsuccessful part-time teacher in a night school and — without his having told her — a husband and father.
This is all there is to the story. What Ozu finds in it, what he finds in his people; what he wrings from us through these basic materials is both revealing and shattering. These 1936 Japanese are scrupulously polite even within their family circle. Mother conceals her disappointment and hurt. Son and daughter-in-law hide their embarrassment as best they can.
But eventually the son must ask his mother if she is disappointed, and with this opening she lets him have it — in a way that is good for all concerned but not superficially rose-colored as an ending.
Shin’ichi Himori and Yoshiko Tsubouchi are very good as the son and daughter-in-law. Choko Iida, heartbreaking in her dignity, is superb as the mother. And with only two scenes, Chishu Ryu, playing the son’s mentor who ends as seller of pork cutlets in Tokyo, is ravishingly convincing. Ozu found his man early, and together they would travel on to the greatness they achieved.
Chishu Ryu would appear in fifty-two of Ozu’s fifty-four films.
MOVIES ARE EVERYWHERE: In For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway Robert Jordan is wondering if his happiness with Maria is only a dream : “like the dreams you have when some one you have seen in the cinema comes to your bed at night and is so kind and lovely . He’d slept with them all that way when he was asleep in bed. He could remember Garbo still, and Harlow. Yes, Harlow many times…But he could still remember the time Garbo came to his bed…She was just lovely to hold and kind and lovely and like the old days with Jack Gilbert…” (Scribner, 1040).
NEXT FRIDAY POST, August 16
Until then, see you at the movies,