There Was a Father

Part of a multi-title set | The Only Son/There Was a Father: Two Films by Yasujiro Ozu


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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.

Picture 4/10

Part of a Yasujiro Ozu double-feature box set, Criterion presents There Was a Father in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this dual-layer disc. The image has been slightly window boxed.

Both of the films in this set (which also includes The Only Son) are in rather horrible shape, with There Was a Father possibly being the worst of the two. Like the source used in the transfer on the DVD for The Only Son it’s littered with scratches, marks, debris, and a rather surprising number of stains (which Criterion attributes to mold and chemicals) that swirl through the film. Frames are missing along with, by the looks of it, entire sequences (Tony Rayns’ essay makes mention of a couple of excised sequences) which just adds somewhat to the frustration. Unfortunately all of these issues, specifically the damage, are constant and the screen grabs below really don’t capture how bad it really is: In motion it looks worse.

But this is probably as good as it gets. The conditions of the material are so atrocious there’s simply no way they can be cleaned up to look pristine. Those that worked on the restoration did the best they could I’m sure, though no less disappointing. But at the very least the actual transfer itself is fine. There are no artifacts to speak of, contrast looks decent, with some nice blacks and whites (maybe a little blown here and there but I blame that on the print) and it remains as sharp and clean as it can. Another unfortunate thing is that the materials used were a 16mm copy of the lost 35mm negative, so detail is lost and it always looks a little out-of-focus.

Again, it isn’t pretty. Sure, I wish more could have been done with the restoration but I seriously doubt much more could have been done. And I’ll take it like this than not get it at all.

Audio 2/10

The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track found here (in Japanese of course) sounds pretty bad and is the worst of the two audio tracks in this set. Cracks, pops, static and other background noises really harm it and are a constant nuisance. I’m guessing some work was done to remove some damage but there are still some obvious problems. Though for English speaking viewers it won’t be a huge issue (since we get subtitles) voices are incredibly low and flat, barely audible, and the fact there’s always a constant hiss makes it even harder to hear. Again, this is because of the source materials, and nothing to do with Criterion’s work on the transfer. It’s in such poor shape a lot of information is lost and no amount of digital trickery is going to help.

Extras 4/10

The set as a whole comes with three features, only one of which is found here. The lone disc supplement here is a an interview with David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson, Ozu scholars who have collaborated on a couple of books, including Film Art: An Introduction. Not as good as the interview found on the other 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 one’s country, or how the sacrifice of parents can make it better. They also talk about war films in general from the period and Ozu’s “human touch” with Bordwell closing on an anecdote about a Ozu retrospective he had attended. At 23-minutes it’s not as spread out as the other but it has some engaging material.

Though the disc supplements here may be the weaker of the two discs in this set, the booklet that accompanies this release is much stronger. Tony Rayns first provides another wonderful essay on the film, looking at the more 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. It’s a nice piece but I’m not sure when it was written or for whom as I didn’t see any indication in the booklet.

And that’s it. The interview was a little disappointing but the booklet picked up some of the slack. Not packed, but a nice release for the film.


This one is the weakest of the two discs, presenting the weaker image and sound, and the weaker collection of supplements (though I was quite happy with the booklet.) But Criterion has done what they could, and they should be commended for even releasing the films at all. Despite the obvious problems and the overall low-to-average scores, I do love this set (the packaging is especially wonderful,) and I think any Ozu admirer will be thrilled with this disc and this set as a whole.

Part of a multi-title set | The Only Son/There Was a Father: Two Films by Yasujiro Ozu


Directed by: Yasujiro Ozu
Year: 1942
Time: 87 min.
Series: The Criterion Collection
Edition #: 526
Licensor: Shochiku
Release Date: July 13 2010
MSRP: $39.95  (Box set exclusive)
1 Disc | DVD-9
1.33:1 ratio
Japanese 1.0 Dolby Digital Mono
Subtitles: English
Region 1
 New video interview with film scholars David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson   A booklet featuring an essay by critic and historian Tony Rayns, an appreciation of actor Chishu Ryu by Japanese film scholar Donald Richie, and comments by Chishu Ryu on director Yasujiro Ozu