Directed by Ozu, one of my favourite directors, There Was a Father is an intimate look at a widower raising his one son before WWII. This conscientious father quits teaching when a boy dies on a school trip. It wasn’t the father’s fault. He wasn’t the only teacher on the trip and he had told the boys not to go on the lake (though Western teachers would have run out to the pier when they saw the boys get in the books rather than continuing with their meal, I think).
After quitting teaching because of his feelings of guilt, the father takes a job in a factory and sends his son who’s about 9 to a boarding school. Like all Ozu films, the story is simple and concentrates on the quieter aspects of familial relationships. Ozu’s very observant like a nature photographer who creeps up on his subjects so as not to disturb them and thereby captures how they really are when they aren’t aware of being observed.
At different points the boy presents his case for coming home. He sees family as most important. However the father exhorts his son to work hard. That’s every Japanese person’s duty, to put aside personal desires, however good, to work hard as their greater duty.
There Was a Father was a pre-war movie that complied with the government’s orders for filmmakers to put out films that lined up with their propaganda efforts. Ozu makes the duty theme clear, yet elegant. The film’s a touching look at Japan and family life during hard times.