The two films included in this box set are so similar that they could easily switch titles (of course, The Only Son would have to become There Was a Mother). Both films deal with single parents making difficult sacrifices in order to send their child through school, and each child eventually becomes a teacher. Both feature shots of the mechanics at the factories where the parents work, contrasting the simple, clean lines of the characters' domestic spaces with the bulky, clanging symphony of the new industrial Japan. Both span multiple years, yet deal with the escalating nationalization of the WWII era only tangentially. Most importantly, both deal with the complicated relationships which are inherent to any family in a way unique to Ozu: quiet, meticulous, delicate in its simplicity.
Despite these similarities, the viewer has not seen both if he has seen one. The Only Son is about living your life or someone else's, the pressure of sacrifice, and the burden of disappointment. There Was a Father is about masculinity, social norms, and how these elements play out on an intimate level. I loved both of them, and I think what impressed me most about each was that these themes were so easily explored within the framework of such a straight-forward plot in each film. Ozu somehow manages to tackle big sweeping issues with very little pomp, instead cutting the story down to its bare essentials and allowing the story to play out. Anyone who loves Tokyo Story owes it to themselves to see this set, but even for the Ozu novice, Two Films by Yasujiro Ozu represents a perfect first step.
Links to individual reviews:
The Only Son
There Was a Father