T. it.: Figlio unico. T. int.: The Only Son. Sog.: James Maki [Yasujiro Ozu]. Scen.: Masao Arata, Tadao Ikeda. F.: Shojiro Sugimoto. Scgf.: Tatsuo Hamada. Mus.: Senji Ito. Su.: Hideo Mohara, Eiichi Hasegawa. Int.: Choko Iida (Tsune Nonomiya), Shin’ichi Himori (Ryosuke Nonomiya), Masao Hayama (Ryosuke bambino), Yoshiko Tsubouchi (Sugiko), Mitsuko Yoshikawa (Otaka), Chishu Ryu (Okubo), Tomoko Naniwa (moglie di Okubo), Bakudan-kozo (figlio di Okubo), Tokkan-kozo (Tomibo), Kazuko Kojima (Kimiko). Prod.: Shochiku
35mm. D.: 82′. Bn.
Ozu was the last of the acknowledged masters of Japanese cinema to convert to sound, so his first talkie, The Only Son, makes a fitting climax to this retrospective of early Japanese sound film. Touchingly, Ozu had resisted conversion because he had promised to use a sound system developed by his regular cinematographer, Hideo Mohara. Due to contractual disputes with Tsuchihashi, manufacturer of Shochiku’s usual sound system, Ozu was obliged to film The Only Son not at Shochiku’s new studio at Ofuna, but at the company’s former premises at the Tokyo suburb of Kamata. Tony Rayns notes that “Unlike Ofuna Studio (whose logo appears at the start of the film), Kamata had no soundproofing, and so the filming was plagued by neighborhood noise. Worse, demolition had already begun, so Ozu was forced to rebuild to create his own makeshift soundstage”.
But Ozu rose above these trials to create a masterpiece, hailed by Noel Burch as his “supreme achievement”. The story of a mother who labours in a silk factory in rural Nagano Prefecture to ensure that her son can be educated, only to find him trapped in a relatively menial teaching job at night school when she visits him in Tokyo, is one of its director’s most trenchant critiques of Japanese society, and the film displays Ozu’s rigorous style, with its careful composition and suggestive montage, at its most precise and imaginative. Yet Ozu also found room for such playful and self-conscious touches as the visit to a cinema screening of an imported talkie by German actor-director Willi Forst, which (in what has been construed by more than one critic as a coded political comment) sends the protagonist’s mother straight to sleep.