Life’s Tragedy: The Only Son (1936)

Otsune Ryosuke

The opening credits of Yasujirô Ozu’s 1936 film The Only Son end with a line that seems to promise high melodrama: “Life’s tragedy begins with the bond between parent and child.” Although the story that follows has its melodramatic moments, Ozu — in this, his first movie with sound (save for the previous year’s documentary short Kagamijishi) — seems equally interested in more mundane, universal sorrows.

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Hidden Depths: Haruko Sugimura

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Haruko Sugimura (Source)

If a viewer watches enough of Yasujirô Ozu’s work, many of the actors become as familiar as old friends. Perhaps it’s something in the nature of his films, in their largely low-key, down-to-earth, everyday quality, or perhaps it’s because the actors who appear in multiple Ozu movies often play similar characters. At any rate, there’s a definite pleasure in seeing certain faces pop up again and again. Along with the iconic Setsuko Hara and the ubiquitous Chishû Ryû, one of the most memorable of these performers is Haruko Sugimura — even if her characters aren’t always particularly pleasant people.

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Setsuko Hara: Smiles and Subtleties

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Although Yasujirô Ozu’s Late Spring (1949) and Late Autumn (1960) were based on different novels — by different authors, no less (Kazuo Hirotsu and Ton Satomi, respectively) — they tell strikingly similar stories. Each film revolves around a young woman living with a widowed parent; in the first, it’s a father, and in the second, a mother. Various acquaintances urge the girl to marry, even proffering potential husbands, but she turns them down because she’s happy as she is. However, when she comes to the conclusion that her parent intends to remarry, she feels betrayed, which may make the separation easier.

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