Two classic screenplays: The Only Son and There was a Father | Sunday Observer

Two classic screenplays: The Only Son and There was a Father

Translated by Prof. D.A. Rajakaruna
A Godage publication
Price Rs. 950
Reviewed by R.S. Karunaratne

Ozu Yasujiro (1903-1963), the author of The Only Son and There was a Father was a Japanese dramatist who was more interested in character and incidental incidents than in action or plot. Once, he said, “Pictures with obvious plots bore me now. Naturally, a film must have some kind of structure or else it is not a film, but I feel that a picture isn’t good if it has too much drama or too much action.”

The translator, D.A. Rajakaruna is a former Professor at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Peradeniya. He holds a Postgraduate Degree in Drama, Theatre, and Cinema, conferred by the University of Waseda, Japan. He was awarded a Certificate of Commendation by the Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs, in 1999.

He was also conferred with the ‘Order of the Rising Sun’, ‘Gold Rays with Rosette’ in 2003 by the Emperor of Japan. He is currently a Visiting Professor at the Faculty of Arts, University of Peradeniya.

Prof. Rajakaruna is thus singularly qualified to translate the screenplays of The Only Sun and There was a Father from Japanese into English.

The Only Son was Ozu’s first talkie depicting the character of an ideal mother in traditional Japanese society. The story is about a widow who works as a labourer in a spinning mill. She sends her son to Tokyo for higher studies. After several years she comes to know that instead of doing higher studies he has got married and is the father of a child. As any mother, she is disillusioned with her son who is in indigent circumstances.

However, she is impressed when she learns that he is helping a neighbour’s family in distress. When he returns home she accepts him with open arms. The son too realizes that he has not done what he was expected to do. Then he begins to follow higher studies with a view to gain success in the future.

The story of There was a Father is somewhat similar to that of The Only Son. It depicts an ideal Japanese father who lived during the early part of World War II. Although he is a widower he attends school.

He resigns from his job when a child drowns during a school vacation. Then he goes back to his village with his son and works in a school as an office worker. He gets a promotion as a sectional head of the school. He proposes his best friend’s daughter to his son. Eventually, the son becomes a lecturer and marries the girl proposed by his father.

It is generally believed, the first act of the tragedy of human life begins with the relationship between the parents and their children. This is aptly illustrated in, The Only Son. In order to understand the real feelings of a mother and her son, one should read the screenplay. When mother comes to meet her son in Tokyo, he is surprised. He is so poor that he tries to raise a loan from others he knows. But he finds they too are in the same predicament.

In the 21st century, new media such as television and film have brought profound changes to dramatic productions.

The unfolding drama in a film is quite different from a stage play. Although the traditional definition of drama has been ‘an illusion of life’, some experimental acting companies and film directors have tried to bring into their productions moments of life itself. In The Only Son and There was a Father this is very much evident. Even without a complicated plot the film-maker takes a slice of life to depict human struggles vividly.

It was a pleasure to read Prof. Rajakaruna’s translation of the two screenplays viz, The Only Son and There was a Father, simply because there is something in the nature of drama that remains constant over the years – something as old, perhaps, as the deepest desires and highest aspirations of mankind. In a practical way, the book also serves as a guide to aspiring screenplay writers.

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