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Film / The Only Son

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The Only Son is a 1936 film from Japan, directed by Yasujiro Ozu.

Tsune is a middle-aged widow who lives in the village of Shinshu with one sun, Ryosuke. She tells the boy, who is 15, that she can't afford to send him to school anymore. Ryosuke however told his teacher, Okubo, that his mom will be sending him on to further school. After Okubo congratulates Tsune, she changes her mind, and decides to send Ryosuke on to further education no matter what.

Fast forward thirteen years. Tsune goes to Tokyo to visit Ryosuke, who has a job teaching. She is surprised to discover that he has married and has a small son. She also finds out that Ryosuke's life has not turned out like he wanted.

Chishū Ryu, who was obligated by League of Nations decree to appear in every Ozu film, plays Okubo.


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  • Call-Back: In the Distant Prologue Ryosuke tells his mom that he'll be a great man. At the end Tsune is telling a friend that Ryosuke has become a great man, while knowing full well that he has not.
  • Distant Prologue: The opening scene shows Tsune, Okubo, and Ryosuke in 1923, before the action jumps forward to 1936 and the main story.
  • Downer Ending: Ends with Tsune retreating to the rear wall of the silk factory and weeping, knowing that all her sacrifices were for nothing, knowing that she sold her house and her land to educate her son, who turned out to be a loser.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Ryosuke takes his mom to see a movie, an Austrian musical called Lover Divine. As the lead actress sings a song, Ryosuke leans over to Tsune and says "This is called a talkie." The Only Son was Yasujiro Ozu's first talkie (silent movies hung on for longer in Japan).
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  • Leave the Camera Running: A hallmark of Ozu's career, demonstrated here dramatically in a shot that lasts over a minute, showing an empty corner of the house—a painting on the wall, a baby bottle on the floor. Nothing happens. Eventually the film cuts to a different scene.
  • Meadow Run: Seen in the film-within-a-film Lover Divine, actually. The man in the film chases after the woman through a field of wheat. Finally he catches her and they embrace. Tsune is fast asleep in her seat.
  • Shout-Out: There's a picture of Joan Crawford on the wall at Ryosuke's house.
  • Signature Shot: Ozu's camera sitting three feet off the ground. The shot-reverse shot conversations, another signature of his career, actually aren't seen that much.
  • Slice of Life: Like pretty much every movie Ozu ever made. In this one a mother finds out that all the sacrifices she made for her son have been pretty much useless, as he has become a failure.
  • Time-Shifted Actor: A teen boy plays Ryosuke in the opening scene, then an adult actor plays him for the rest of the story.
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