Analysis of “There Was A Father”, Grayscales

2.
You are the commander in the war zone. Across the valley, the large troop of enemy awaits. You are waiting for the reinforcements, but there is no word from HQ. Then, a wounded messenger arrives with a COPY of the message from HQ. He says the original was destroyed by the fire, but insists that he copied MOST of it. The message reads you should start the frontal attack next morning. Don’t worry, the reinforcement will come and air strikes will assist you. But, the massage has lost many words in the course of duplication, smeared with blood, and some of the sentences are incoherent. 

Do you carry out the mission? Probably you would, but being a little bit hazy on details, so you might carry it out cautiously. 
Then, one of your staffs tell you that the messenger’s identity is a little bit suspicious. There is no record of his previous engagement. Is he a REAL messenger? Or is he an impostor? You never know…
Do you still carry out the mission? What if the messenger destroyed the original retreat order intentionally, and made the forged message?
This is one of the fundamental problems in communication. How much of the information is trustworthy? Do you ever know the message you just received has not been tampered in anyway? Believe it or not, the cinema is communication. We, audience, are recipients of the “message” transmitted by production companies, film directors, producers and anyone who is associated with the film in any way.  Then, the quality of transmission becomes questionable if the external forces begin to add noise. Ozu’s “There Was A Father” is such a film. The original had long been destroyed, the only copy, a 16mm print, is below-the-standard quality. Furthermore, the original was produced under the war-time regime, while the surviving copy has been edited by Occupation Force. Reviews and critiques surrounding the film since have been less concerned about the transformation of the film under such conditions. It is all the more frustrating to nail down to which extent the film was transformed/degraded/re-engineered by external elements (chemical, physical, political etc.).
As stated earlier, one of my concerns is the “darkness” of the film.  As a recipient of  the message of this questionable quality, I have to assume what I perceive may be the result of failed transmission. But the discussion of the available material may cast light on what was different about this message from other messages. Or what we should consider about this artifact, noises and forces external to this material. All images of the film are processed for grayscale histogram analysis, so let’s look at the actual data.
Each frame has its own histogram. But to analyze aggregate of the frames, it is necessary to view them statistically. One of the metrics is the average brightness of the frame. This can be obtained by the summation of grayscale values of all the pixels in the shot. By rescaling the value from 0 to 1, each frame can be analyzed from the darkest (0) to the brightest (1). In simple terms, white is 1, gray is 0.5 and black is 0.
Brightness value (B)

According to this process, for example, the brightness value is 0.2567 for the Scene 2772.

There Was A Father, Scene 2772, Grayscale histogram overlaid
The grayscale of the Scene 2436 gives the value of 0.445. As you can see, the frame is much brighter with large portion of sky in the background, hence the higher value.
There Was A Father, Scene 2436, Grayscale histogram overlaid
The plot below is the value of grayscale average (brightness) of the frame as a function of time. For the record, the average of these averages throughout the film is 0.260, with the standard deviation of 0.065. The plot shows that the values are fairly consistent throughout the film, but there are six distinctively bright sequences, five of which are in the first half. 
Grayscale brightness plot for “There Was A Father”
Before going into details, let’s compare this plot with those of the other films. As I have noted earlier, I have processed the images of two films “How Green Was My Valley” and “Late Spring” similarly. These are the plots.
Grayscale brightness plot for “How Green Was My Valley”
Grayscale brightness plot for “Late Spring”
It is quite fascinating that the processions of grayscale values are distictively similar for two Ozu films, while “How Green Was My Valley” is much more noisier and somewhat featureless. In these Ozu films, there are “bright” sequences of substantial length, which stand out from the rest of the film. In “How Green Was My Valley”, there are bright/dark shots (showing up as spikes), rather than sequences. Moreover, the whole film gradually shifts down to darker note, only to be lifted up at the very end. 
In the next installment, I will look into the details of the plots and alternative approaches.

Analysis of “There Was A Father”, 01:18:00 – End

There Was A Father, Scene 4971

When someone turns away, with his/her back to you, without a word, you might find it difficult to reconnect with that person. Even if it is not a hostile gesture, just an awkward lapse in conversation or meeting, you have to search for effective, proper words to recapture the person’s attention. Then, it is all the more difficult if the person is shutting down all the external interaction, retreating into the personal void.

We have seen a couple of instances of Ryouhei turning his back to “us/camera/father” to express/suppress his painful disappointment. Sometimes, he just loses his gaze into nowhere, his mind filled with anguish. The death of his father completely shatters any hope of his family rebuilt on this earth. This time, we realize, he turned his back to us, to the world. He stands alone in the hospital’s hall, speechless when Hirata approaches him and tries to console him. We only see his back, probably crying. This motif is repeated at the last shots, in which Ryohei turns his head away from us/camera after he says his father was a good father.
It is quite natural to assume that Ryohei turned away to let other not to see his tears. But I believe the implication runs much deeper. I always considered the last three shots of this film particularly fascinating and unsettling. What is the meaning of these three shots? The film practically has ended with the first train shot, making these three shots disconnected from the preceding section.
First of the three shots is the Ryohei’s resistance to show his tears to Fumi, public and us. The second of the three shots is the box containing the urn of his father’s ashes. And the last shot of the train traveling into the vanishing point of barren land in the night is one of the darkest images of the film. I imagine this night shot was achieved by using a dark filter, which renders the unnatural feel, eerie landscape. The dense, thick clouds hang low, blocking and scattering the moon and heavenly light. Here the earth solidly anchors the heavy, suffocating air. These three shots can be interpreted as symbols of the time. Shutdown of communication as an individual, the death and the living hell.

There Was A Father, Scene 5168

Conversely, one of the brightest scenes occurs earlier in this section. When the father dies in the hospital, his face was haloed by the brightest light from the exterior. This scene radiates as if the death were rejoiced and celebrated with the bright light of the other world. As we have seen, this film hovers around the border of the two world; this world of the living and the ‘other’, the world beyond. At the border, the world beyond is filled with bright light, as in the other side of the riverbank, while the world of ours is filled darkly with the graves and ashes.
The time was that of violence and blood. Ozu had seen the hell in the war field, and survived. The whole nation was in the state of hyperactive numb, not able to question their own actions anymore, but only to continue on with the self-destructive killings. Living (not dying) in the world filled with horror and atrocities is hell. In such a world, the death can be sweet blessing.

There Was A Father, Scene 5194
But you might ask, is this really Ozu’s own intention? I do ask the question myself. This should be a story of the father and the son, whose lives were separated, and during its course, their honest soul-searching has shaped itself. I believe that was all there was. On surface, the narrative does not explore the sweetness of death nor pain of living. It is more probable that Ozu didn’t intend any of this, but the shrapnel of violence exterior to the film pierces through the soft skin of fictional lives of the father and the son.
It wasn’t avoidable. Collective psyche of the time was abnormal at best. It was the time when adults told their children to die, die heroically. In such a defunct world, the death must have given off the sweet smell, while surviving was painful torture with no end in sight.

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Analysis of “There Was A Father”, 01:12:00 – 01:17:59

There Was A Father, Scene 4614

The climax of the film is staged at the father’s house. The separation of the father and the son, the loss of their own house and the long arc of their sojourn finally land on the domestic scene however temporary. Through most of their lives, privacy has been a luxury. Here, they have the space of their own where they can discuss their private matters in more joyous note. But, alas, it’s only for a brief moment.

Among the indoor settings in this film, there are three instances of “upstairs”. Earlier instances are meetings of the father and the son, one in the restaurant (Ryotei) and the other in the lodging in the hot spring resort. Both cases are the borrowed spaces, as if two lovers meet in secrecy. The last appearance of the room upstairs is in this section. The son has a conversation with his father, and goes upstairs to start his carefree day-off.
“The room upstairs” has played a symbolic role in Japanese dwelling since late 19th century. “The upstairs” frequently provided a space for a young single male, usually a grownup son, a collage student or an artist-to-be. The following is the analysis by Ai Maeda on the role of two-level structure of a traditional Japanese house in modern Japanese literature.
“In a traditional Japanese house plan, the staircase (to upstairs) is usually concealed in the corner of rooms or the hallway. The rooms upstairs, connected to the main floor through such a staircase, tend to have the air of secret hideaway. … The upstairs in a Japanese house is a lonely secret hideaway similar to an attic in a Western house, but at the same time it is anchored to the world downstairs intimately. The resident upstairs cannot be wholly free from the dense air of people populate downstairs, while the world downstairs is not allowed to be unaware of the presence of the upstairs.”
This analysis also applies to the treatment of such structures in Japanese cinema. The most evident in Ozu cinema is the early scene in “The Brothers and Sisters of Toda Family”, where we find Shojiro in his room upstairs. Whole family is getting ready for the photo session in the garden, but Shojiro is in his room as if he is oblivious of the family gathering. But the truth is, he knows the session is getting ready, he is aware of being late. The very fact he is not apologetic nor surprised tells us silent admission of his knowledge. Moreover, though his sister and nephew come up to hurry him up, he takes time to change his clothes leisurely. When his nephew tells him the old man is getting angry, Shojiro takes it half seriously, “Don’t make me sweat”. This exchange reveals his handling of delicate balance between accepted indulgence and eyebrow-raising laziness. He cannot be free from his family downstairs, but he indulges himself in this little space, enjoying reclusiveness. Inversely, Shinichiro, the eldest son and the downstairs-dweller, is fully aware of his responsibility and power as an adult male in the family and dutifully exercise them.
Brothers and Sisters of Toda Family
Another example is Noriko’s room upstairs in “Late Spring”. This is her private, emotional sanctum. Here, she entertains her friend, can express her negative feelings and retreats back into her black hole when she wants to. This place is only allowed for a unmarried woman, as she leaves the place behind on the morning of her wedding. It is probably very fascinating to note that smaller children, pre-schoolers and elementary school students, have their space downstairs with their parents(I Was Born But,…, Tokyo Story, Ohayo, etc.). 
Late Spring
Back to “There Was A Father”. I found it very peculiar to see the son in the room upstairs. Significance is that this is the first time the adult Ryouhei has his own space and privacy. It is only temporary, since he will have to go back to his teaching in a few days, but his room “upstairs” is finally here. The relationship to his father/downstairs is straightforward as we can easily imagine Ryouhei will come down immediately when “downstairs” calls for him. Shojiro in “Toda Family” has much more “matured” relationship to his downstairs. It is a complex compound of acceptance, dependence, reluctance, indulgence, irritation and comfort and many more, feelings and attitudes of parents and sons who have spent their time together for a long time. Shojiro has everything Ryouhei longed for and much more. 
But “upstairs”? How do we know it is upstairs? There is no indication of the staircase, as in the cases of Toda Family and Late Spring. Not even the sound of footsteps when the maid comes up to call Ryouhei for help. The only indication is the window in the room, which has railings typically found in second-level rooms. It can be the ground-level room, belonging to the world of “downstairs”. The staircases in Toda Family and Late Spring create the distance, the tunnel through which the downstairs dwellers have to go to reach the privacy of Shojiro or Noriko. Ryouhei in “There Was A Father” does not have this tunnel.
Ryouhei’s relationship with the father just ended before it even started.
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