The Only Son ★★★½

As expected from Ozu, THE ONLY SON is a delicate film with deep empathy for its characters. Even though it deals with a simpler narrative and fewer characters than the Noriko Trilogy, Ozu examines its ideas with his usual poignancy and restraint, particularly the cascading shame of disappointment and the complacency of failure in the big city. Much of the the film focuses on the exorbitant purchase of impressive foods, a form of materialism with no lasting value. Western culture looms conspicuously over Ryosuke's life, signifying a displacement of aspirations or a distraction from one's purpose and the Japanese work ethic. Ozu's favorite trope of overindulged children behaving badly gets ample service in THE ONLY SON, running profoundly through the central narrative conflict, leading to a final scene of compelling emotional dissonance.

Both Iida and Shin'ichi are good, and Ozu stalwart Chishū Ryū appears briefly as an influential teacher who also seeks to better himself in Tokyo, but his time onscreen is brief and I missed the spark and complexity that Hara brings to Ozu's later films. There's nothing bad about THE ONLY SON — well, except for two of the least convincing crying child actors that I can recall — but it did give me a sense of how those who find Ozu dull might yearn for something more dynamic to happen. His painstaking artistry and depth of feeling are enough to make THE ONLY SON worthwhile for me, regardless, but it feels like a lesser, albeit important, movie in his canon and development.

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