The Only Son (1936)
Director: YasujirÃ´ Ozu
Cast: ChÃ´ko Iida, Shin’ichi Himori, Masao Hayama
Synopsis: In 1923, widow Tsune Nonomiya sacrifices everything, even her home, to send her son Ryosuke to high school. However in 1936, making her first visit to Tokyo to see him, she is shocked to find that he has lost his important civil service post and is now a low-paid night school teacher with a wife and son he has never told his mother about
This, the first of eminent Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu’s sound films, contains many of the ingredients of his more famous works. The distinctive visual style – long static shots filmed from low angles – is already in place, and paradoxically provides a sense of intimacy with the simple characters on screen. The story, as usual, is deceptively simple, but filled with a surprising emotional depth.
Choko Iida plays Tsune Nonomiya, a single mother who toils in the sweat-shop atmosphere of a silk-spinning mill. She struggles to make ends meet, and wants her son to forgo his secondary school education, but when she sees how desperate he is to continue with his education she relents, thus submitting to more hard years of thankless labour. Thirteen years later, her son Ryosuke (Shin’Ichi Himori) is working in Tokyo, and his mother pays an unannounced visit. It soon becomes clear that Ryosuke has neglected to maintain contact with his mother because he is embarrassed by his low social status, and hasn’t even informed her that he is married, with a child of his own.
The plot of the film hinges on two key conversations between mother and son, one which takes place in the shadows of twin smoke stacks, the other late one sleepless night in Ryosuke’s modest apartment. While the situation might seem timeless, and political comment was not on Ozu’s agenda, the film was made during a time of economic and social upheaval in Japan, when the good jobs in the cities went only to graduates of the finest universities, leaving others to scramble for humble, low-paid positions. Seen in this light, the movie’s message assumes a deeper significance and demonstrates Ozu’s ability to merge social comment with a more intimate examination of human emotions.
Recommended for fans of Ozu and his slow, meditative style, The Only Son wouldn’t appeal to those who prefer more mainstream fare.
(Reviewed 12th July 2013)