The Only Son

Japan 1936, 83 mins
Director: Yasujiro Ozu

A widow makes sacrifices to ensure her son gets an education. Years later, when she visits him, she is surprised by how his life has turned out and how little he has told her of it. The son in turn comes to appreciate the cost of his mother’s sacrifice. Ozu underpins this moving portrait of a mother-son relationship with questions regarding the true value of material wealth and the qualities that are cherished and rewarded in contemporary society.

The Only Son, a film about the failure of risshin shusse, ‘getting on’, is sweeping in its referential scope. Its 13-year time span includes a portrait of rural life more detailed than that in Story of Floating Weeds, a rare depiction of the silk-spinning industry, and a vision of Tokyo quite different from the nostalgic shitamachi or the jazzy metropolis seen in the earlier films. This is a new, raw Tokyo. We are no longer in the coffeeshops of the college comedies, or the trim streets of Walk Cheerfully and Dragnet Girl, nor even in the downtown of Passing Fancy. The city of The Only Son is a cluster of ramshackle tenements pasted against a wasteland of factories and weedy plains straight out of An Inn in Tokyo. The early silent films had revelled in an urban landscape that is kept insistently offscreen here. No outside views show the streets around Ryosuke’s school or the hospital where Tomibo is taken. Okubo’s pork-chop café sits in a dusty stretch of laundry lines, power poles, and vacant lots. Ryosuke and Otsune go sightseeing to Asakusa, Ueno Park, and the Kudan hill, which offers a fine view of the city; but we merely hear reports of this tour. The expedition that we actually see consists of mother and son squatting before the city garbage-treatment plant. The Only Son originated as a silent film to be called Tokyo Is a Nice Place.

Ozu’s remarks about persisting in a silent style should not distract us from his accomplishments in the domain of sound. The Only Son introduces several of his characteristic sound techniques. The lyrical music, with one theme based on ‘Old Black Joe’, is not yet used to signal and smooth over transitions, but it runs throughout two scenes. With respect to dialogue, Ozu is already practicing the restraint he would maintain for the next 25 years; he will not cut so as to break a character’s line, not even by a syllable.
David Bordwell, Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema (BFI/Princeton, 1988) Reproduced by kind permission of Bloomsbury Publishing © David Bordwell

Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Production Company: Shochiku Co. Ltd.
Assistant Directors: Kenkichi Hara, Hamao Negishi, Nobuo Nishikawa
Screenplay: Tadao Ikeda, Masao Arata
Based on an idea by: James Maki
Director of Photography: Shojiro Sugimoto
Lighting: Toshimitsu Nakajima
Camera Assistants: Yuharu Atsuta, Kiyohisa Sakurai, Hitoshi Unozawa
Editors: Hideo Mohara, Eiichi Hesegawa
Art Director: Tatsuo Hamada
Music: Senji Ito
Sound Recording: Hideo Mohara, Eiichi Hesegawa
Sound System: SMS
Studio: Shochiku Kamata

Chôko Iida (Otsune Nonomiya)
Shinichi Himori (Ryosuke, Otsune’s son)
Masao Hayama (Ryosuke as a child)
Yoshiko Tsubouchi (Sugiko, Ryosuke’s wife)
Mitsuko Yoshikawa (Otaka)
Tokkan Kozo (Tomibo, Otaka’s son)
Chishu Ryu (Okubo, Ryosuke’s teacher)
Tomoko Naniwa (Okubo’s wife)
Bakudan Kozo (Okubo’s son)
Eiko Takamatsu
Seiichi Kato
Kazuko Ojima
Kiyoshi Aono

Japan 1936
83 mins

The screening on Saturday 16 September will be introduced by season curator Ian Haydn Smith.

Tokyo Story (Tōkyō monogatari)
From Fri 1 Sep
I Flunked, But… (Rakudai wa shitakeredo)
Sat 2 Sep 16:15; Wed 13 Sep 20:35
Tokyo Chorus (Tōkyō no kōrasu)
Sat 2 Sep 18:30; Sun 17 Sep 16:00
An Autumn Evening with Yasujirō Ozu
Mon 4 Sep 18:15
I Was Born, But… (Umarete wa mita keredo)
Mon 4 Sep 20:30 (+ intro by Jinhee Choi, King’s College London); Fri 15 Sep 18:30
Tokyo Twilight (Tōkyō boshoku)
Thu 7 Sep 18:00; Wed 27 Sep 20:15
The Only Son (Hitori musuko)
Fri 8 Sep 20:40; Sat 16 Sep 18:10 (+ intro by season curator Ian Haydn Smith)
A Story of Floating Weeds (Ukigusa monogatari)
Sat 9 Sep 11:50; Sat 23 Sep 16:00
Good Morning (Ohayō)
Sat 9 Sep 18:10; Sat 30 Sep 20:40
Floating Weeds (Ukigusa)
Sat 9 Sep 20:30; Sun 1 Oct 11:30 BFI IMAX; Mon 2 Oct 18:00
Late Spring (Banshun)
Sun 10 Sep 12:15 (+ intro by season curator, Ian Haydn Smith); Fri 22 Sep 20:50
Early Summer (Bakushu)
Sun 10 Sep 15:00; Wed 13 Sep 14:30; Sat 23 Sep 20:35
Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family (Todake no kyōdai)
Mon 11 Sep 18:00; Sat 30 Sep 18:20
There Was a Father (Chichi ariki)
Mon 11 Sep 20:40; Thu 28 Sep 18:20
City Lit at BFI: Ozu: Cinema of Everyday Life
Tue 12 Sep – 3 Oct 18:30-20:30
Record of a Tenement Gentleman (Nagaya Shinshiroku)
Tue 12 Sep 20:30; Wed 20 Sep 21:00; Sat 23 Sep 18:30
Early Spring (Sōshun)
Thu 14 Sep 20:10; Sun 1 Oct 18:00
The Flavour of Green Tea Over Rice (Ochazuke no aji)
Fri 15 Sep 20:45; Sat 30 Sep 15:30
The Anatomy of Ozu
Sat 16 Sep 12:00-17:00
Late Autumn (Akibiyori)
Sun 17 Sep 18:20; Sat 30 Sep 12:30
Equinox Flower (Higanbana)
Thu 21 Sep 18:00; Sun 1 Oct 15:10
An Autumn Afternoon (Sanma no aji)
Sun 24 Sep 18:25 (+ intro); Tue 3 Oct 20:45

Influence and Inspiration
Make Way for Tomorrow
Sat 2 Sep 12:40; Sun 24 Sep 15:50 (+ intro by season curator Ian Haydn Smith)
Sun 3 Sep 14:00; Mon 2 Oct 20:45

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