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But this first six minutes are already filled with wealth of ideas and images.
First, the condition of the print. It is quite apparent that the grayscale of the images are "narrowed". In another words, the dynamic range has been lost. Black has faded, while white lost its luster. I believe that the surviving material is positive 16mm reduction print. I don't know if the loss of image quality occurred when this reduction/duplication process was performed, or it has degraded over the course of time.
The modern image processing technologies can manipulate images quite easily. In fact, there are some people who are working with old films, giving the image grayscale stretch, adjusting it until they can get "decent details", and calling it "digital restoration". While I am not totally against this approach, I am not ready to accept it as definitive. Digitizing analogue materials, especially deteriorated materials, is quite an intricate matter.
In any case, rather than appropriating details by manipulating the grayscale, I would study the images as they are, as carefully as possible.
A bit of historical background. It will help us to understand some of the aspects in this film.
It was more than 20 years ago. Back then, the chances to encounter Ozu's works were relatively limited. The VHS catalogs or theatrical screenings usually consisted of works from 50's and 60's, the later masterpieces. So when I found "There Was A Father" was scheduled on late-night TV, I was quite excited. It was probably around '86 or '87.
It made quite an impression on me. The print was in a miserable condition, but through scratches, specs, damages, flickering and shaky frames, the ethereal world lost to us emerged. Since then, I was quite captivated by the film.
It was not that I liked the story. In fact, I found its reactionary moral preaching rather heavy-handed and was not at all convinced by the father-son relationship portrayed. Direction was superb, as you might expect from Ozu, but there was something more than that. I was not able to grip what fascinated me. From time to time, I contemplated about it, my fascination about this film.
If I attempt to describe what I saw, I would say it was this strange darkness dissolved in the air beyond the lens. What I was not able to grasp was if it was really a dark film in terms of its images, or its theme filtered my perception of the images.
I was not able to place this "darkness" in the broader scope of cinematic art. It was one of those strange experiences you cannot explain very well. I had seen many noirs, especially John Alton's works, and love them deeply. I love German Expressionist films and their works in Hollywood. But I felt this film had a different kind of darkness. It's not dark guys doing dark deeds in dark alleys. It's not dark twisted figures contemplating dark thoughts in dark twisted sets. I felt inexplicable tragedy in its theme. This film was supposed to portrait the "family value" as the war-time Japanese government saw fit, while Ozu must had worked thoroughly to make it as universal as possible. But somehow, the mysterious dark fog was hovering over, I thought. Some images of the films were reiterated in my memory and deformed into black haze.