Yasujiro Ozu’s frequent leading man Chishu Ryu is riveting as Shuhei, a widowed high school teacher who finds that the more he tries to do what is best for his son’s future, the more they are separated. Though primarily a delicately wrought story of parental love, There Was a Father offers themes of sacrifice that were deemed appropriately patriotic by Japanese censors at the time of its release during World War II, making it a uniquely political film in Ozu’s body of work.
“Gary Tooze” wrote:
I honestly think that this may eclipse both “Late Spring” and “Tokyo Story” as my very favorite Ozu film. It is possibly his most simplistic narrative, again dealing with familial communication – this time a father and son. All the noted Ozu signatures are here with an early shot of derricked hydro-electric lines and a few trains, also shots of solitary smoking characters and camaraderie drinking of alcoholic beverages. I enjoyed Ozu regular Chishu Ryu in his relative youthful appearance. This is a bit unique from Ozu’s other films in that there are an abundance of static shots (almost like postcards) that pop up usually without musical accompaniment (or very light traditional music audio). The film is so expressive with strong overtones of love and respect filling many scenes. There Was a Father is an extremely quiet, subtle and peaceful film – one which I crave deeply to continue to revisit. Frankly this may be Ozu’s best film – unrecognized because of the poor condition of the print and therefore lack of availability. It rates a heartfelt out of .
– Interview with David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson