This is the most serious and sad of all Ozu's films I have seen. The plot is simple: the wife named Tokiko (played by meek and moving Kinuyo Tanaka) tries hard to survive in the post-war Japan with her little son, while her beloved husband is still absent. One bad day her son gets seriously ill, and Tokiko has to sell her body (just once) to pay for his medical treatment. When her husband finally returns and finds out what's happened (in fact she told him herself being too honest to keep that shameful secret), he's not inclined to forgive her and gives her very hard time, scolding her and even beating her while she is as meek and obedient as she always has been. The reconciliation happens only when he almost kills Tokiko (unintentionally, of course) and being shocked (for a very brief moment) he understands that he'd better forgive his wife in the name of the happier future.
There are some crucial moral dilemmas showing the total lack of compassion and respect to women in those days. 1. Was Tokiko really that guilty? For a modern point of view, even Japanese, the wife has done nothing wrong. Survival at all costs is a respected thing today, not like in old Japan where men and women easily killed themselves to avoid dishonor that was considered much worse than death. In this movie, Tokiko mentions the suicidal thoughts too. But being eager to see her husband again, she continues living - for him and for their child. She doesn't care for her own survival, but she's ready to sacrifice herself for her child. No one around her seems to be able to understand it, neither her best friend nor her husband.
2. What's the right of Tokiko's husband to blame her? As much as we can see, the husband does nothing for Tokiko and the boy - he does not send any money to her, probably thinking she is a magician able to make money out of nothing or turn things to gold by a single touch. When she tells him how did she get money to pay to the doctor (another totally immoral thing considered pretty normal by those people, is the need to pay for the treatment of a little ailing child - no cash, no help, who cares if this child will not survive) he seems to be pretty surprised she could not just borrow the money from someone. Well, she did it before. And she has already sold her clothes and any valuables she could sell except her sewing machine she needed to continue working. If her husband wouldn't come that day, probably she'd have to go to the brothel again, or just die. Simply as that.
3. Is it normal to make the weak suffer even more?! When after the climactic quarrel the husband lashes Tokiko away making her fall the stairs barely escaping death or serious injury, he seems to be shocked for a while (probably realizing he'll go to the jail if she dies) - but what does he say or do when realized she's alive and able to move? He just lets her to climb painfully up the stairs back to the room, while he's just sitting there in a corner with a sulky face, ready to say some lofty words about trust and understanding they need to keep in their family. Why the hell didn't he help her up the stairs? Why didn't he run to her headlong begging for forgiveness? But here we have only one character to beg and plead, and this is certainly not the husband. Because of his wife "treason", he believes he is "suffering", his friend believes it too, even Tokiko's friend (the one that blamed her harshly for selling herself and then for revealing it to the husband) believes the husband, not the wife, is the sufferer here. Even Tokiko herself thinks the same way. But isn't she suffering way more than her man?
Ozu is deeply sympathetic to Tokiko but neither husband nor friends look enough compassionate to her case... That makes the viewer feel very sad for her and for the same fate many real women suffered in real life. Times have changed a lot, and happily in the most civilized countries women are considered to be equal to men, but watching the old movies regarding the sad fate of meek and submissive female characters oppressed by men, we have to remember as it was before to never let anything like that happen here again.