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Friday, December 3, 2010

CHICHI ARIKI / THERE WAS A FATHER (1942)


Yasujiro Ozu’s quietly observed, emotionally resonant film about a widowed father and his only son was made in Japan during WWII, but any elements of propaganda are worn lightly. (At least in the surviving prints which were all vetted by U.S. military authorities post-war.) Ozu regular Chishu Ryu stars as the father who gives up his teaching post after the accidental death of a student, and finds work in far-off Tokyo so he can keep his son in the best schools. Though the son does well and continues to love & respect his father, the lack of physical contact over the years becomes the fulcrum of their relationship. In typical Ozu style, one perfectly formed scene follows another with grace notes of revelation that emerge seamlessly within his calm yet powerful style. Such a deceptively simple technique. Though the film is smaller in scope than his better known work after the war, it’s filled with indelible moments: a mountain walk & discussion between father & son, a hallway lined with umbrellas, the synchronized swish of fishing rods, a sudden realization of role reversal between parent & child . . . Ozu seems unable to put a foot wrong. It fits snugly between the tough sentimentality of a British classic like SORRELL & SON and the free form cinematic abstraction of paternal bonds in Sokurov’s FATHER & SON/’03. Essential stuff. Bring your handkerchief.

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