There Was a Father (1942) Poster

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subversive sadness cracks through wartime propaganda
alsolikelife13 December 2003
Another sober wartime drama, this time a sort of reworking of THE ONLY SON as a widower schoolteacher decides to send his boy to a boarding school to give him the best education possible and seek a higher paying position to afford tuition. The film takes a sudden leap forward in time as the grown son desires to take care of his aging father, but the father forbids the son to compromise his own career. The war is barely mentioned but the film can easily be read as a propagandistic statement about self-sacrifice and devotion to duty, even at the cost of family unity. However, the pensive, tentative mood Ozu captures at the end, embodied in the son's distant, troubled look as he thinks about his father, hints at Ozu's own reservations with the moral message being issued. The scenes of father and son together in both halves of the story have a gentle perfection that gives the film all the beauty it requires, thanks to great performances by Shuji Sano as the grown son and Chishyu Ryo as the father. Amazingly, Ryu was only 38 when he gave this totally believable performance as an aging patriarch -- in fact he barely looks any different than he does in AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON twenty years later!
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10/10
Unusual Ozu film
lqualls-dchin18 May 2003
Most of the films of Yasujiro Ozu take a very restricted time period: a few days at the most. "There Was a Father" is unusual in that the time span is actually quite long: it stretches over a number of years (this is also the case with "The Only Son"), as it chronicles the relationship of a widower with his son. The father, a schoolteacher (played by Chishu Ryu), struggles to make sure that his son has advantages that he never had; in this case, the son is appreciative of all that the father has done, and the relationship is one of the most heartwarming of all familial relationships in Ozu's work. "There Was a Father" represents one of the most beautiful depictions of a good parent in all of world cinema.
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8/10
Sometimes a little clunky (probably because it was edited post-war), but very good nonetheless
zetes1 August 2010
Lesser, but, of course, still fine Ozu. It might come off as better if it had not been edited by American censors after the war, or if the existing print were a little less damaged (it's easily the worst print I've ever seen Criterion put on DVD, and they apologize profusely in the booklet for it; of course, it's of the best quality that is available). Chishu Ryu, in his first starring role, plays the titular father. The film opens with him quitting his job as a teacher after a student under his supervision has died. A widower, he moves away from the city with his young son in tow. After he finds a good school, he abandons his son to move back to Tokyo, where he can find better work. The meat of the film is the torn relationship. The son isn't bitter, exactly - more hurt that his father is far away. When he grows up, he wants to quit his job as a teacher to move to Tokyo to be with his father, but his father refuses the idea. Every person must do their job the best they can. While the message of every citizen doing their duty is a part of the film's wartime propaganda, it doesn't really come off as such. It feels more like Ryu is always punishing himself for his own career failures, or maybe that he fears that his son will be a failure like himself if he quits his job. Yet Ryu's character never comes off as cold - he loves his son, and his son loves the heck out of him. It's as if the forced separation is pathological. All the scenes between the father and son are golden. I did think that whenever the film strayed from them it wasn't as strong, and the pacing feels a little weird at times (almost certainly from the editing the film suffered later on). The final moments are killer.
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9/10
Father and Son
crossbow010627 June 2008
Being a fan of Ozu, you see here all the elements of his film making: The long shots, the trains, the interaction of family members etc. Kind of a precursor to the superior "Late Spring", this story revolves around a father and son's relationship. He works hard to get his son through school, so he can have a better life. However, they are not in the same place, so they do not see each other all that often. The film spans several years, in which the son goes from a young boy to a man. Chishu Ryu, who has starred in many Ozu films, is the father. Of course, he is great, he always is. Since the mother passed before the film even started, the boy only has the father, and their relationship is the heart of this film. A good to almost very good film, it was shown, appropriately enough, on Fathers Day on Turner Classic Movies. If you like Ozu, you'll want to see this. If you're new to him, check out the films with Chishu Ryu and Setsuko Hara, as well as his swan song "Autumn Afternoon" and even "I Was Born, But" before watching this. I liked it, it was a nice film. Its another worthy Ozu film, in a career that had so many of them.
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Immovable vision
chaos-rampant16 March 2012
One more step in Ozu's long journey of trying to balance between a cinematic eye that sees with clarity into the disasters of dramatic life and reflections of that eye, his most famous films still ahead of him. French and Soviet silent filmmakers innovated in the 20's by looking to see the seeing eye in action, shaping, morphing world with vision. Ozu introduced something altogether different: non-mind, nothingness between eye and world.

This was a completely novel thing at the time in terms of cinema - although it's supported by a rich Buddhist tradition.

Even Ozu seemed unsure how to handle it. Cultivating this took him time. It is possible for example, that being a young Japanese cinephile fascinated with modern Western culture, he thought for a time that he was only reworking Chaplin, a visual story, pared down to essentials. He dabbled for a time with a fluid camera, after Sternberg. He did a chamber drama, controlled, stagebound environment, very German.

But at some point, he must have suspected this had potential to go much deeper than anyone had envisioned at the time. I believe the key transition was Dragnet Girl from '33: a gangster film, very upbeat and jazzy, pure Sternberg razzle-dazzle, that is until the finale, where the modern movie night of danger and intrigue gave way to the clarity and stillness of the first morning light.

This was great. He had discovered the eye, a landscape painter's eye, but not yet the right landscape. He spent the next couple of films looking. It should be life, he knew this much, but what kind of life?

Now this. The story is about a teacher scarred by an accident he couldn't prevent, and efforts of his surrounding world to extricate him from the exile of self-imposed guilt. He sends his son away, to study, work hard and advance himself. He keeps himself away, somewhere in Tokyo, and only periodically surfaces back from we presume a frugal existence. At a class reunion with his former pupils, he is reminded, urged to consider, that the world is moving ahead, still turning. All his pupils are grown men, married, most of them with kids.

So what a change from earlier fathers Ozu portrayed, often itinerant bums, a source of dismay or embarrassment for their kids. Here's a father who is hardened, by his own failures no less, resolute, preaching to his son that "work should be considered every man's mission" and to "serve your country".

There is of course the obvious comment to be made about wartime allegory and the call for patriotic action, by itself not very interesting. Sons of Japan urged forward by a strict but well-meaning father. Incidentally, that same year was when tides of war started turning in the Pacific, blowing back towards Tokyo and destruction.

But there is more here, for the first time. Now if we only listen to the story, the father is a tragic hero and a model to emulate. The dutiful son goes away in the finale, presumably to strive to fulfil his father's wishes. The parting image is one of many poignantly still shots.

So far Ozu had favored dramatic resolution of that stillness - Floating Weeds, Tokyo Inn - and at first glance this is no different. But these images reveal a more complicated world beneath the story.

Consider the plot again. The traumatizing event occurs because the father is not there to see. This is understandable; we cannot keep the whole world in check. It turns independent of us, transient, impermanent flow. The event also happens away from our sight, but in place of it we have a perspective the father lacks. At the crucial moment, Ozu cuts away to a shot of an ornamental stone top on a vertical post of a bridge. Now images of bridges feature prominently in Japanese iconography, signifiers among other things of what the Buddhist understand as the floating world. Distances in old Japan were traditionally measured from the great Nihonbashi bridge, the center of a symbolic axis mundi.

There is no motion from this point of stillness in our film, although we know a plot is being set in motion in the flow of transient waters below, a life being lost.

How does the father handle this? Distraught from the tragedy, he takes off with his son on a train. Not having made his peace with the fact, he later removes himself from sight of his son, who needs him more than anything else. And how does the son? He becomes the father he's been effectively deprived of, this broken man infused with values from that loss. In the finale he sails off into the night, onboard another train.

Trains; man-made, mechanical structures of life, human karmas in motion.

On the other hand, an immovable spot above the waters, clarity, dispassion, centered vision.
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9/10
War-time Ozu
kerpan22 May 2003
Warning: Spoilers
unavoidable spoilers

The second of Ozu's war-era films -- and the first to feature Chishu Ryu as "star". This film starts with the story of a teacher and his young son (in the 1920s). After one of the students under Ryu's care drowns on a school outing (after disobeying orders), Ryu resigns as a teacher due to his "failure". Ryu and his son then must split up, the son to go to middle school and Ryu to go to Tokyo to pay for his son's education. Even when the son (now played by Shuji Sano) is grown -- and teaching in an agricultural college -- the two remain separated (except for very rare, very short visits) due to Ryu's fanatic devotion to duty, an attitude he presses on his son as well. This film has typically been viewed as supporting the Japanese government's promotion of hierarchical paternalism. But, frankly Ryu's rigidity seems a bit "over the top" -- and, in the final moments of the film, it seems that his son (now just married to the daughter of Ryu's best friend from his teaching days) may not accept the concept that duty requires the squelching of all emotional ties.
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10/10
perfect death
jrglaves-smith16 August 2005
Warning: Spoilers
What would be your perfect death? After an evening out with friends you suddenly are taken ill the following morning, living just long enough to deliver a perfectly honed homily from your hospital bed before slipping peacefully away. It doesn't usually happen like that, of course, but in this Ozu film it appears as the reward for an exemplary life. A widower bringing up his son alone feels obliged to resign from his post as school teacher after the death of a pupil for which he feels responsible. His search for work elsewhere leads to separation from the son even while the latter is still at school. The close bond between them is evoked by shots early and late in the film of their fishing together. These are beautifully economical, the pair framed together from behind. Later when the son himself has become a teacher he wishes to resign his post to be closer to his ageing father who is now a bureaucrat in Tokyo. The father explains to him the importance of dedication to duty as the only path to happiness, a message accepted by the son who is only able to spend a brief time with the father who dies shortly afterwards. As this might suggest it is more simplistic in its morality than later better known films such as 'Tokyo Story'. The poignancy of the film derives from a much simpler conflict between social duty and family ties. This is doubtless partly accountable in terms of the war time context in which the 'good father' would be the one who cheerfully accepted the absence and possible death of his sons. Nonetheless a certain psychological complexity is permitted. The father blames himself for the death of the student in a boating accident on his failure to exert proper authority. However what we see is his involvement in a game of 'Go' which distracts his attention while the boys disobey his instructions not to go boating. Lack of competence and authority he can confront. Neglect of duty he cannot. At the time of writing (August 2005) a pretty dreadful copy of this is drawing very respectable audiences in a Paris cinema. It is certainly a moving experience but its problematic political subtext should not be ignored.
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9/10
son suffers because the father chooses to be separated from him
rschmeec6 February 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Whether the father is a "good father" is questionable. We first see him abandoning a career as a schoolteacher, for which he seems eminently fitted, because he is unwilling to accept responsibility. This tendency is amplified as he separates from the son, presumably for the son's sake, but this can be interpreted as another abandonment of responsibility.

The son is portrayed as suffering deeply because of the separation, and this emotional pain is repeated in several scenes in which they are together again for short periods of time.

As the movie progresses, the son is portrayed as larger than the father, often filling the screen in interiors that have a very low ceiling. The son is always dutiful, (in contrast to the two students at the beginning of the movie); the father continually urges the son to work hard, to give it all he has, in order to get ahead. But the father appears pathetic in his subordinate clerical position; his emphasis on "giving it all one has" is countered by the son's simple desire to be with the father. Human relations trump the value of hard work.
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1/10
Terrible Film (And Original Source Material).
net_orders16 July 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Viewed on DVD. Restoration = one (1) star. The most deficient (or close thereto) Japanese movie to have survived from the 1940's and, perhaps, the most mediocre (or close thereto) surviving Japanese film from the first half of the 20th Century! Using the standard "restoration profitability early warning system," the opening credits are just starting when it becomes obvious that the restoration label holds the film per Se and, hence, its commercial prospects in low regard and, accordingly, did not spend more than token resources (if that) to restore it. (Aside from possible test marketing, one has to wonder why this movie was even added to the label's video disc catalog!) The plot is thread bare and almost as old as the known universe (yet again we have one generation sacrificing just about everything for the benefit of the next one) and poorly written/developed. Further, the film lacks implementation skill in general and disciplined direction in particular. Actors deliver dull line readings while appearing disinterested with the entire undertaking (perhaps their thoughts were elsewhere like on being drafted in the midst of WWII?). Frequent use of "back acting" (photographing the actor's back while lines are delivered) actually serves to lower rather than compound the monotony! Quality of camera work and sound recording are just about impossible to judge given the submarginal quality of the original source material. Viewers (including native Japanese speakers) may become dependent on subtitles when trying to understand what is taking place on the screen. The extensive use of Western Japanese dialect(s) is a challenge. But the poor quality of the original voice recordings, mumbled deliveries, pronounced transfer/duplication artifacts, and substantial age-related audio deterioration render the dialog all but incomprehensible throughout the film. (Whomever authored the subtitles has a "golden ear" if the subtitles were based exclusively on what one hears (or does not hear--which is more often the case) on this video disc!) Keep your distance from this disaster! WILLIAM FLANIGAN, PhD.
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8/10
Ozu did it again!
fa-oy31 October 2011
Another simple story perfectly made and portrayed by Ozu. This time it is about the relationship between father and son and how they had to separate from each other throughout their lives.

I think this has been the slowest paced film from his earlier films I've seen so far, though I'm not really sure. The camera sometimes shows or focuses on places (for instance the shot in the building where the father works) and prolongs itself into them. Those takes might not add anything to the plot, but they surely give a more vivid feel to the film.

The film is really worth watching for all lovers of Japanese cinema; it is also the one I've liked the most from Ozu's earlier films. Needless to say, and as I've been mentioning in the other reviews, if you're not into Ozu's filmmaking style, then you shouldn't bother checking this out.
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6/10
I wasn't quite as enthralled with this film as the rest
MartinHafer6 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
This is a very simple film about a single dad and his relationship with his son spread over more than a decade. Personal happiness seems to always take a back seat to devotion to duty in this film, though it is obvious that despite the distance between the father and son that they truly love each other.

I guess I'm going to be the radical among all the reviewers and give this film a rather average score of 6--though it's very close to receiving a 7. Having seen quite a few other films by the famed Japanese director, Ozu, I realize just how similar but how inferior this film is compared to them. Like his trademark style, the film features many low angle and static camera shots as well as the occasional seemingly irrelevant transitional shots, though it did seem a bit less polished and professional in style than his later films. However, despite the similarity of style, the story itself just seemed rather unfinished and anticlimactic--like it was missing something. Because of this, I really think that if a person not familiar with and in love with Ozu's work saw this, they'd soon get bored and never seek out one of his films--which is a great loss. At no point does the film engage you like his greater works like UKIGUSA (FLOATING WEEDS) or BANSHUN (LATE SPRING). Those who are familiar with his other films, however, will revel in the familiarity and will probably not mind the weak story about devotion to duty above all else--which another reviewer astutely pointed out was meant to bolster the Japanese war effort.

FYI--The print shown on Turner Classic Movies was pretty rough and needs restoration badly. I doubt if a better version exists, as TCM usually shows the best available copy of each film.
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8/10
Good, not great, movie from Ozu...
romdal4 May 2007
Slow-moving tale of a father's relation to his son. After a pupil accidentally dies on an excursion, a teacher (Chishu Ryu) retires from services and starts working second rate jobs to provide for his son's education. The movie jumps many years to show the relation of the father and son as the son has come adult. It is a film about sacrifice and duty. The two main characters must live a life apart, given that the son has so fulfill his studying duties and the father is working elsewhere. There are some heartthrob scenes with the small boy and a gentle Ozu melancholy throughout, but I find it not to have very much going for it in terms of theme display or drama compared to other Ozu I have seen, with basically just the two characters. Still, effective film-making on very simple premises. Excellent score – I thought the composer must have been Ozu regular, but was not.
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