Another touching film by Yasujiro Ozu. This time the story is about a single, widowed father (Chishu Ryu in his first starring role) who has a son. He's also a teacher and after a accident at the beginning of the film that leads to a boy's death, the father is so overcome with guilt that he quits his job. He still wants the best education for his boy, so he sends him off to school while he, the father, works in Tokyo. The boy is heartbroken, but he does his best and eventually gets a job as a teacher himself.
For his entire life, the boy has longed for a closer relationship with his father and eventually when he himself is an adult they grow closer and are able to spend time together, but by now the father is old and well past the prime of his life.
To me, THERE WAS A FATHER is a even sadder film than it's DVD companion THE ONLY SON, because even though the father, I'm sure, loves his son very much it seemed to me that he was selfish in quitting his job. At the beginning of the film, everything appeared to be very happy, but once he quit his job it threw his son's life into turmoil and when he just dumped him off at the school and moved away that was extremely cruel. The little boy has already lost a mother and now his father abandons him?! I don't have any children, but when you become a parent you are responsible for that child and just because a horrible accident happened and one of your pupils died it doesn't mean you should quit your job and scar your kid for life. You gotta man up, put on your big boy panties and do what's best for your child.
Back to the film though, it's beautifully shot (a lot of the exterior shots could be put on postcards) and the performance by Ozu regular Ryu is very good. His version of an old man (Ryu was 38 at the time) is much more believable than Toshiro Mifune's in I LIVE IN FEAR (Mifune was 35). Of the two films in this wonderful set by Criterion I think I liked THE ONLY SON better just because the separation between the child and the parent was against the parent's will. Then, of course, at the end the mother saw the separation as not being worth it (which is the saddest moment in the film), even though I disagree, to a point, with that because she was sad that her son didn't grow up to be "great", just normal.
The picture on the DVD is passable, but I was really surprised at the amount of crackling and audio noise was going on, but since this is the first time these films have been available in America I'll just gladly shut up and be grateful that they are finally here for me to enjoy. For a better, more educated, essay on THERE WAS A FATHER look here.