Analysis of “There Was A Father”, 00:54:00 – 00:59:59

There Was A Father, Scene 3451, The only son and the brother of Toda family
In prewar/wartime Japan, and postwar Japan to some extent, the clothes, especially women’s, convey various implications as to the social/cultural roles, status and psychology of the character. This implication is clearly evident in Ozu’s films. In Ozu’s prewar, wartime films, majority of female characters wear kimonos, while male characters are dominantly in western clothes. However, after the war, the (young) female characters are completely converted to the western dress, as can be evidenced by “Late Spring”. Noting that “Late Spring” and “There Was A Father” or “Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family” are only less than ten years apart, it is all the more surprising. 

Take, for example, progression of Setsuko Hara’s roles in the films and her wardrobes. Before and during the war, most of her roles called for kimono (Kouchiyama Soshun, Hawai Mare oki kaisen, Atarasiki Tsuchi etc.). But immediately after the war, majority of the characters she played barely wore kimonos, mostly western dresses, as can be evidenced by Noriko series in Ozu, a couple of Kurosawa and other films. These characters were more open to society, active in public space and a conscious individual. However, this transformation completes in a full circle, as her roles in the later films are domestic mothers and widows, wearing again kimonos. Another example is Kuniko Miyake, whose carrer in the film spun from 30’s to 60’s. In 1930s she played female leads in many Shochiku films, many of which were working women, requiring the western wardrobe. Then, as she progressed in age, playing domestic mothers/wives in “Ohayo” and “Late Autumn”, for example, as kimonos glued her onto tatami. This coding of clothes, kimono as domestic versus western clothes as “public”, is consistently seen in many Japanese films over the years. And to some extent, this coding applies to male characters, too. Mamiya, Taguchi and Hirayama all wear expensive suits or shirts in an office, a bar, in a club house until they slip into something comfortable at home. In “Late Autumn”, there are many scenes the middle aged men changing their clothes to kimono immediately after they come home. 

Setsuko Hara in Hawai Mare Oki Kaisen (1942).
This is not exactly a kimono, but “monpe”, domestic clothes for women during the war.
 
Setsuko Hara in “Anjo-ke no Butokai (1947)”

Setsuko Hara in “Late Autumn (1960)”

Because most of the characters are in “public” most of the time, appearance of kimonos in domestic environment in “There Was A Father” is all the more revealing. For example, Fumi (Mitsuko Mito) wears kimono only and Hirata (Takeshi Sakamoto), her father, is seen wearing kimono at home (and in good spirits, too). Ryohei (Shuji Sano)’s verbal expression of his wish occurs only when he is appreciating the private time-off with his father, in kimono. In the next morning, when Ryohei apologizes for his “selfish” remarks, he is back in the dark suit. Private thoughts are “selfish”, and men should behave. Strangely, this resonates with the philosophy, moral teachings of the time. 
Overt dominance of male characters in this film is also reminiscent of wartime sentiment. In this six minute segment, there are two female characters appear, but they are just bit parts. It is as if Ozu was at loss as to create female characters in the time like this. Along with Fumi’s characterization, Ozu must have abandoned to paint the domestic passive femininity anticipated by reactionary moral of the time. Considering the fine portlait of women evidenced in such films as “Women of Tokyo” and postwar films, this dislocation of sexual balance is all the more striking. Mizoguchi also drifted into male dominant world of “Chusingura” this year. He immersed himself in the aesthetics of the extravagant set of the Edo Castle. They seemed to have had some way out around this time. As the war progress, there was no way out.
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Analysis of “There Was A Father”, 00:48:00 – 00:53:59

There Was A Father, Scene 3115

The father and the son visit the small hot-spring resort to spend a weekend.

From what I can gather, the location is Shiobara Onsen in Tochigi prefecture. I was not able to identify the exact location of the inn and the hot spa. In any case, the visit to a hot-spring resort plays a pivotal role in Ozu’s films. For example, in “The Flavor of Rice Over Green Tea”, Taeko and her friends visit the (very expensive and luxurious) hot-spring resort in Shuzenji and have fun. In “Tokyo Story”, the resort is the least pleasant place for the elderly couple. 
Japanese love hot-spring resorts (Onsen), especially when they provide tranquility, good food and relaxation. There are probably hundreds of “Guide to hot-spring resorts” shows on TV every year (quick consult on TV schedule for major networks tells me more than four such shows in this week only), numerous travel guidebooks and thousands of tour packages. The volcanic nature of the land provides more than ample number of such hot springs with a variety of minerals as “healing ingredients”. Some of the resorts are located in remote areas, requiring many hours of travel from major cities. This, in turn, creates a sort of “Shangri-La” atmosphere, appealing to many connoisseurs of the Onsen. Other Japanese filmmakers also stage their drama in such resorts to create the distance from the society. In Naruse’s “Floating Clouds”, Ikaho Onsen provides the mechanisms to play out the story of sex, jealousy and ego. The resort in the mountains, distant from Tokyo, liberated the mind of the kept woman, only to end in miserable loneliness in Hiroshi Shimizu’s “Kanzashi”.
There Was A Father, Scene 3095
To convey the flow of tranquil time in such a space onto screen, Ozu timed and calibrated the scenes with the extraordinary care to minute details. The tempo is deliberately slow but not sluggish. You will notice many of the shots last longer than the rest of the film, and shots of the empty spa, the empty room and the river mark the punctuations. Upon this leisurely timed continuo, another layer of suppressed hope is played out. The son brings up the idea of living together, which his father flatly refuses. Then, we see the grownup son behaves as he did when he was a kid. His head sagged, his eyes lost focus, and his lips were tightly sealed with cries of lost hope never uttered. And this forced silence lingers through the next morning, fishing in the river to their departure, parting. Despite of emotional dissonance, the sequence flows as if you taste a cup of green tea in a quiet den. The precession of black and white spectrum, evenly distributed, is as quiet. 
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Analysis of “There Was A Father”, 00:42:00 – 00:47:59

There Was A Father, Scene 2669

Shohei Imamura, a very prominent Japanese film director (Pigs and Battleships, The Ballad of Narayama, The Eel), was once Ozu’s assistant. He immensely hated Ozu’s style of film direction and asked to be relieved from the position. To him, Ozu had always picked the worst take out of tens of retakes. Ozu’s endless retake was infamous in the studio, as he kept saying no until actors and actresses were so exhausted that their uniqueness were stripped off. Imamura found nothing to be learned from Ozu’s direction. 

It is true that many of the acting in Ozu’s films look unnatural and staged. Some actors deliver lines as if they are reading them aloud to practice. Their postures look rigid, mannequin-like. When multiple actors are placed in the frame, their positions and poses are calculated to form a perfect composiiton. Critics consider them as crucial components of Ozu film, arguing the lack of excess engagement and of overt expression bring unique quality in the cinematic space-time, in tone with its singularly universal theme. 
 
Here, the treatment of the two students visiting Shuhei in his room is a good example of this Ozu style. They stand attentive, geometrically placed, their faces toward off-screan Shuhei in the similar fashion. In parallel, Shuhei speaks in monotone, with his head rigidly held sideways. Of course, the students back in those days were expected to behave submissively in front of their teachers, as moral of young men. Then, in a sense, this acting is natural, considering what the time demanded to their young ones. This is a strange paradox. Acting unnatural feels natural in this environment. The students are deprived of their privacy, because they live in the boarding school, where every inch of it is public space. Their emotions are never spelled out, as childhood Shuhei was. 
There Was A Father, Scene 2617
I believe Shuji Sano carries the very air of Ozu style. There are some quintessential Ozu actors, Shuji Sano, Chishu Ryu and Setsuko Hara. Their acting style resonates with the ethereal world Ozu creates. Some actors, even considered great in other films, had difficult time fitting into Ozu’s world. Hisaya Morishige, one of the most sought-after actors in the Japanese theatrical/cinema cericles, was an archenemy of Ozu. While Ozu demanded least of theatrical antics, kicking and making faces, Morishige was all “big” acting. As we will see, the suppression rather than expression, and implosion rather than explosion, convey much more emotional flux to the screen under Ozu’s direction. 
But how dark this scene is. The spectrum is shifted toward dark end, all the characters wear dark suits, and the room is barely lit. Especially, Shuhei’s face is barely lit, his silhuette sinking into the blurred background. The blurred outline, sinking into the background, is the recurring visual motif in this film. 
In conrtast, the father-son meeting does not show any power at the dark end of the spectrum. This can be seen from the 3D plot below. As we have seen so far, many factors contribute to the dark areas, one of which is the dark suits of the father, the son, the students, and others. Since this is the spa scene, the dark suits are absent, with bright daylight provides the calming atmosphere in the scene. We will see the role of garments and their colors in the films during this era.
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