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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • Japanese Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 3 Discs
FEATURES
  • New video interviews with Japanese film scholar Tadao Sato and film scholars David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson, authors of Film Art, the United Statesí best-selling film studies book

The Only Son / There Was a Father


Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Yasujiro Ozu
2010 | 169 Minutes | Licensor: Shochiku

Release Information
DVD | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #524
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: July 13, 2010
Review Date: July 8, 2010

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SYNOPSIS

These rare early films from Yasujiro Ozu are considered by many to be two of the Japanese directorís finest works, paving the way for a career among the most sensitive and significant in cinema. The Only Son and There Was a Father make a graceful pair, bookending a crucial period in Japanese history. In the former, Ozuís first sound film, made during a time of intense economic crisis, a mother sacrifices her own happiness for her sonís education; the latter, released in the midst of World War II, stars Ozu stalwart Chishu Ryu as a widowed schoolteacher whose devotion to his son ends up driving them apart. Criterion proudly presents these nearly lost treasures for the first time on home video.

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PICTURE

The Criterion Collection presents a Yasujiro Ozu double-feature box set featuring the films The Only Son and There Was a Father presented in their original aspect ratios of 1.33:1 over the two dual-layer discs. Both transfers have been window boxed.

The source materials used as the basis for both transfers are in terrible condition, and according to Criterion they are sadly the best that were available. Both present a hefty amount of scratches and dirt, bits of debris, and stains that Criterion attribute to mold and chemicals. These flaws are raining through the films consistently and never let up so the image never looks clean. It also varies from light to heavy and does so without warning. The stains can fill out the entire screen, almost wiping out the image, and on top of all of this the films can jump around and there are also missing frames and sequences, which are obvious and jarring (in one of his essays found in the booklets with the set, Tony Rayns mentions some excised sequences briefly.) Of the two I felt The Only Son was the better looking one only because the damage in There Was a Father was so much heavier.

There will probably be some disappointment over the conditions of the prints used (which in both cases are 16mm of their respective original, lost 35mm negatives) but it needs to be pointed out that with the amount and type of damage I honestly canít say much more could have been done. Details and pieces of the image are gone and thereís no way one can retrieve whatís gone, and removing the scratches would further soften the image, which is already incredibly soft to being with. The softness has nothing to do with the transfer, though, but is instead a condition inherited from the 16mm copy, which has less detail and looks out-of-focus. The digital transfers themselves are good, presenting no artifacts, looking clean generally, and presenting excellent contrast with some pleasing whites and blacks, despite the few instances where the image can look blown out (which I again blame on the source.)

Iím sure those involved in the transfers tried their hardest in the restoration but thereís only so much that can be done. Though it can still look ugly, Criterion has at least done their hardest and given the films strong digital transfers; itís just unfortunate the conditions of the source materials hide this.

5/10

All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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The Only Son

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The Only Son

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The Only Son

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The Only Son

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The Only Son

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There Was a Father

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There Was a Father

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There Was a Father

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There Was a Father

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There Was a Father

AUDIO

Both films come with Japanese Dolby Digital 1.0 mono tracks and again the conditions of the source materials are beyond repair and show it. Both are flat, hollow and beyond tinny. Damage is heavy, with plenty of cracks and pops, along with general static and a hiss, all of which actually over powers the tracks. The Only Son is the better sounding one I felt, as There Was a Fatherís track is near impossible to hear clearly. Voices are weak to begin with, but the noise and damage in the background overpower it to a stunning degree; itís impossible to hear dialogue or sound effects a good chunk of the way through because of all of the noise (though thankfully for English speaking audiences, who get English subtitles, itís not too big of a concern.)

Again I feel theyíve done what they could with both films and I blame the audio problems solely on the source materials. Information is lost and canít be retrieved, and the amount of damage is so heavy thereís very little chance any noise can be filtered out. A shame.

3/10

SUPPLEMENTS

This two-disc set features each film on their own in their own keep cases, placed in a cardboard sleeve in a rather impressive looking package overall. Supplements have been spread out over each disc and the features are pretty much specific to their respective films.

The Only Son first presents an interview with David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson, Ozu scholars who have collaborated on a couple of books, including Film Art: An Introduction. In the interview the two (well, Bordwell primarily) talk about the film and the time period in which it was made and takes place in: Depression era Japan. They cover the political climate, the look of Tokyo (a ďwastelandĒ), the ďsocial milieu,Ē and then talk about the technical aspects of the film including the compositions, transitions, editing, the point of view shifts, and the overall narrative structure. They also break down the rather bizarre use of sound (this being Ozuís first sound film,) which actually works to almost counteract what weíre seeing, or, as Bordwell puts it when talking specifically about the music, it works to ďnuance the tone of the scene.Ē At 25-minutes itís a rather enlightening interview, if filled with a lot of clips. Worth viewing.

The other supplement found on this disc is a 2003 interview with film scholar Tadao Sato, lasting about 19-minutes. In this interview Sato concentrates more on the presentation of Japan in the film, and the effects of the Depression. He brings up many sequences and explains the significance of them in the filmís presentation of the time period. He then moves on to some technical details of the film (again covering the use of sound) and even attempts to explain Ozuís reasoning for using low angle shots. Another great piece worth viewing.

There Was a Fatherís disc has one lone disc supplement, another interview with David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson. Not as good as the interview found on the first disc but still worth watching, this one looks at the more political aspects of There Was a Father, the one key theme basically being sacrificing for the sake oneís country, or how the sacrifice of parents can make it better. They also talk about war films in general from the period and Ozuís ďhuman touchĒ with Bordwell closing on an anecdote about a Ozu retrospective he had attended. At 23-minutes itís not as spread out as the other but it has some engaging material.

Each disc also comes with their own individual booklet. The Only Sonís booklet contains a rather excellent essay by Tony Rayns on Ozuís career during this time period. He also offers a rather wonderful analysis of the film and a few of its sequences. The booklet for There Was a Father is a little bulkier. In this booklet Tony Rayns provides another wonderful essay covering this particular film, looking at the political aspects in it (and mentioning some scenes cut out after the war because of this) followed by a wonderful piece on actor Chishu Ryu by Donald Richie. And in a nice little surprise there is a piece by Chishu Ryu on his early work with Ozu. Itís a nice piece but Iím not sure when it was written or for whom as I didnít see any indication in the booklet.

On their own with each film theyíre okay but put together in this set and they actually come off as a well-rounded selection of supplements, all of which are worth going through (especially the booklets.)

6/10

CLOSING

Iím sure some will feel Iím being harsh but I need to warn that the films do not sound or look good, but it canít be blamed on Criterion; the materials used in the transfer are in such poor shape and are beyond repair. Criterion at least gives us strong digital transfers, though theyíre still held back by the quality of the prints used. Still, the set comes with a high recommendation. It is a rather lovely looking release (Iím especially fond of the packaging and artwork found throughout, one of Criterionís stronger compositions I feel) and the fact you get two films on two discs for $40 ($20 each) with some strong supplements, it makes the release a bit more appealing.


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