Tuesday, August 2, 2011

There was a Father. A-

Ozu's There Was a Father seems to have four main goals to accomplish in its brief running time of 87 minutes: to show a father's love for his son, to question the nature of sacrifice, to stress the importance of education, and to avoid the war as much as possible. That the movie, in its slow, insightful style, meets these goals successfully without ever feeling rushed is a result of Ozu's well-placed camera, some wonderful Japanese actors, and perhaps one of the tidiest scripts ever written. Ozu beautifully shoots the film with a series of still shots that let the action play out. The editing is minimal, as Ozu's concerns seem mainly with realism and not letting cuts and cinematic gymnastics (a line I love from Scarface cinematographer John Alonzo) interfere with the dialogue and the story. The father is the most important figure in the film, and there's a deeply complex question at the heart of his seemingly heroic and loving actions. At the beginning of the film, the father, a successful school teacher, takes his students on a field trip during which one kid drowns in a boating accident. Torn and distressed, the father retires from teaching and focuses solely on his son's education (there was a mother, but she died). His father seems to sacrifice everything so his son can be successful, yet it seems that may not be his only concern. What he really seems to be doing is punishing himself for the terrible accident that he wasn't responsible for, but that he takes the blame for nonetheless. The question, then, is whether guilt or love governs his actions? Regardless, the film is quite moving, and in my mind would make a good introductory to a film course studying great foreign directors. Or, anyone interested in Ozu may want to seek this film out first before moving onto his more substantial masterpieces, Early Summers and Tokyo Story.

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