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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film is commonly called one of the masterpieces of international
film. Indeed, a well-known "intro to film" textbook uses it as a case
study in notable film-making. But, as more than one reviewer so far has
pointed out, 'Tokyo Story' is slow, obscure, and sometimes seemingly
sterile. Understanding how a great classic could be seemingly soulless
requires some study - of Japanese culture, as others have pointed out,
of film technique, and of ourselves. Fortunately, that understanding
more than fully repays itself, as is true of any great piece of art.
I should begin by warning the first time viewer that the film is not in any familiar style. Other reviewers have mentioned the camera, the angles, the acting, the elision - I hardly need dwell on these. Those used to Hollywood films of almost any era will find 'Tokyo Story' odd and unsettling, just because the style is so different. And of course the culture is radically different. In this forum one can hardly even begin to discuss the way that Japanese fathers discuss their children amongst themselves, or the marriage culture of 1950s Japan. But I think the film is great even if one has no understanding of continuity editing, or post-war Japan, or a dozen other obscure topics. This is, after all, the central feature of great art: Even those of us who do not fully understand still realize, in some unspeakable way, that we are in the presence of something great.
The most common accusations leveled against this film, oddly, assert alternatively that it is a cold, soulless exercise in technique or, on the other hand, that it is a soap opera, with no real substance. I think neither of those is true. There can be no question that it is easily seen as cold. Nothing really happens, by modern standards. It is merely a family that comes and goes and lives and dies. Of course, to those who accuse it of being a soap opera, that death is the foremost evidence of its manipulative guilt. But, for those who have seen it, recall the mother's stroke, or where Keizo is told to look one last time - would a soap opera elide such a supremely emotional scenes?
No, 'Tokyo Story' is neither cold nor manipulative. Rather, it slowly brings you into a family that, while perhaps totally unlike your own, is at its base just the same. Then it allows those things to happen that must someday happen to all of us - growing up, moving away, and that unspeakable, inescapable end. It is not easy; it is not obvious; but it is not obscure, either. After it all, I can only tell you this: If you have lived long enough to know how it feels to leave your parents and only realize far too late, as it seems we all do, the value of what you have left behind, then 'Tokyo Story' will reward you perfectly. And these things - we all do these very things, so 'Tokyo Story' is universal, is Art.
I think this movie is amazing for reasons I was not expecting. I had
heard of Yasujiro Ozu's "Tokyo Story" for several years but never had
an opportunity to see it until Criterion resuscitated it as part of
their DVD collection. Over fifty years old, this wondrous 1953 film
resonates just as deeply today. Those outside Japan rarely get to see a
Japanese film classic that doesn't involve samurai warriors in medieval
battles. This one, however, is a subtly observed family drama set in
post-WWII Japan, and it is the quietude and lack of pretense of Ozu's
film-making style that makes this among the most moving of films.
The plot centers on Shukishi and Tomi, an elderly couple, who traverse the country from their southern fishing village of Onomichi to visit their adult children, daughter Shige and son Koichi, in Tokyo. Leading their own busy lives, the children realize their obligation to entertain them and pack them off to Atami, a nearby resort targeted to weekend revelers. Returning to Tokyo unexpectedly, Tomi visits their kindly daughter-in-law, Noriko, the widow of second son Shoji, while Shukishi gets drunk with some old companions. The old couple realizes they have become a burden to their children and decide to return to Onomichi. They also have a younger daughter Kyoko, a schoolteacher who lives with them, and younger son Keizo works for the train company in Osaka. By now the children, except for Kyoko and the dutiful Noriko, have given up on their parents, even when Tomi takes ill in Osaka on the way back home. From this seemingly convoluted, trivial-sounding storyline, fraught with soap opera possibilities, Ozu has fashioned a heartfelt and ultimately ironic film that focuses on the details in people's lives rather than a single dramatic situation.
What fascinates me about Ozu's idiosyncratic style is how he relies on insinuation to carry his story forward. In fact, some of the more critical events happen off-camera because Ozu's simple, penetrating observations of these characters' lives remain powerfully insightful without being contrived. Ozu scholar David Desser, who provides insightful commentary on the alternate audio track, explains this concept as "narrative ellipses", Ozu's singularly effective means of providing emotional continuity to a story without providing all the predictable detail in between. Ozu also positions his camera low throughout his film to replicate the perspective of someone sitting on a tatami mat. It adds significantly to the humanity he evokes. There are no melodramatic confrontations among the characters, no masochistic showboating, and the dialogue is deceptively casual, as even the most off-hand remark bears weight into the story. The film condemns no one and its sense of inevitability carries with it only certain resigned sadness. What amazes me most is how the ending is so cathartic because the characters feel so real to me, not because there are manipulative plot developments, even death, which force me to feel for them.
I just love the performances, as they have a neo-realism that makes them all the more affecting. Chishu Ryu and Chieko Higashiyama are wonderfully authentic as Shukishi and Tomi, perfectly conveying the resignation they feel about their lives and their children without slipping into cheap sentimentality. Higashiyama effortlessly displays the sunny demeanor of a grandmother, so when sadness does take over in her life, it becomes all the more haunting. In particular, she has a beautiful scene where Tomi looks forlornly at her grandchild wondering what he will be when he grows up and whether she will live to see what happens. Even more heartbreaking is the scene where Shukishi and Tomi sit in Ueno Park realizing their children have no time for them and are resigned to the fact that they need to find a place to sleep for the night. The closest the film has to a villain is Shige, portrayed fearlessly by Haruko Sugimura, who is able to show respect, pettiness and conniving in a realistically mercurial fashion. Watch her as she complains about the expensive cakes her husband bought for her parents (as she selfishly eats them herself) or how she finagles Koichi to co-finance the trip to Atami or how she shows her frustration when her parents come home early from the spa. So Yamamura (familiar to later Western audiences as Admiral Yamamoto in "Tora! Tora! Tora!") displays the right amount of indifference as Koichi, and Kyoko Kagawa has a few sharp lines toward the end of the film as the disappointed Kyoko.
But the best performance comes from the legendary Setsuko Hara, a luminous actress whose beauty and sensitivity remind me of Olivia de Havilland during the same era. As Noriko, she is breathtaking in showing her character's modesty, her unforced generosity in spite of her downscale status and her constant smile as a mask for her pain. She has a number of deeply affecting moments, for instance, when Noriko explains to Shukishi and Tomi how she misses her husband, even though it is implied he was a brutalizing alcoholic; or the touching goodbye to Kyoko; or her pained embarrassment over the high esteem that Shukishi holds for her kindness. Don't expect fireworks or any shocking moments, just a powerfully emotional film in spite of its seemingly modest approach. The two-disc DVD set has the commentary from Desser on the first disc, as well as the trailer. On the second disc, there are two excellent documentaries. One is a comprehensive 1983, two-hour feature focused on Ozu's life and career, and the second is a 40-minute tribute from several international movie directors.
A fantastic film that belies the simplicity of its plot, Tokyo Story is the tale of a vacation gone sadly awry, with an elderly man and woman visiting from the countryside pushed to the sidelines by their busy children in the city. The younger generation (and by extension the "new" Japan) turns its back on the family from which it arose- because of selfishness, because of necessity, or because it's simply the way of the world. The movie provides no easy answers- its melancholy ambiguity is part of its charm. Whatever the case, Ozu delights in portraying the details of everyday life. The emotional resonances of this movie are extraordinary, and some shots (a child picking flowers, an old couple framed by the sea, a woman sitting forlornly at her work desk) are enough to give a sensitive film-goer the shivers. Despite the testimony of some critics, the film is not totally devoid of melodramatic elements (some stock characters and cloying musical motifs spring readily to mind), but the film is founded upon such an obvious love and respect for the importance of real-world interactions that it's hard not to be anything other than enthralled by it.
An appreciation of this movie may demand some understanding of Japanese
culture. The Japanese are rather reserved, and were even more reserved back
in the early 1950's, when this film is set. No embracing, even of parents,
children, siblings; no dramatic histrionics; even a death scene in this
movie is much quieter than a Westerner might expect.
Consequently I can't really blame several reviewers here for calling this movie boring and slow-paced. But it is not at all slow-paced from a different cultural perspective. It just depends on what you're used to.
If you do take the time to watch and try to understand it, you'll find an engrossing analysis of the dynamic of a middle-class family, the rift that grows up between generations, and of the many excuses we find ourselves making to justify our neglect for others, even those dearest to us. These themes are universal, but are couched in a postwar Japanese idiom, and so probably less accessible to the average Western viewer.
I have wondered awhile about a speech at the end by Noriko, the widowed daughter-in-law, in which she denies that she's such a good person (though her actions in the movie indicate otherwise). I'm still not sure I understand her motives in saying this. For the most part, however, this movie will not leave you puzzled, but it may leave you a bit wiser, and a bit more reluctant to make those excuses.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As with every great work, the film has its own unique perfection in
style, rhythm, details, and artist's vision - but Tokyo Story is very
universal in its appeal - it is for every parent, every son or daughter
- for everyone. It was made 50 years ago in Japan, about people who
lived far away, but it is also about all of us, our families, our
problems, our guilt and our search for love and meaning.
Ozu's film does not require one to be a movie buff or to try to solve complex symbolism to appreciate and love it. It brings smiles because it is a comedy (for at least the first 2/3) and sadness with a high drama of the last 1/3 of the film.
Yasujiro Ozu's quiet and deceptively simple film tells a story of an elderly couple who travel to Tokyo to see their grown up children and their families - son, daughter and daughter-in-law who is a widow of their middle son that was killed during the World War II. Their children love them, of course but they are too busy with their own lives and jobs to spend much time with them. Their young grandchildren don't know them and not too eager to try to know their grandparents better. Only the widowed daughter-in-law is the one who is really happy with their arrival and tries to make their visit pleasurable. After parents return home, children receive a telegram with the sad news that the mother became critically ill. Now it is their turn to make a journey.
Ozu does not judge anybody, but beneath the quiet politeness, smiles, and soft voices there is a sad, inevitable, and powerful alienation of generations in the modern world of big cities. The simple family melodrama has been told with intensity, humanity, and honesty of character.
P.S. The first thing I wanted to do after I finished watching this film was to pick up the phone and call my mom. Just to hear her voice.
Two women are sitting on tatami mats. They are smiling and talking. One of
them says, "Isn't life depressing?" Wow... that pretty much says it.
Tokyo Story is defenitely one of the finest movies ever made. Easy. I don't care what anyone says: slow or not, this is one of Ozu's finest films. Very few movies have made my cry, but I did indeed weep at this movie. All of the acting
performances are very believeable, especially Hara's. The interesting knee- level tatami cinematography suits the film perfectly. Even the music is
What really gets me with Tokyo Story is how stunningly realistic it is. From the dialogue to the story, everything feels like real life. No matter what language you speak, what culture or country you hail from, this element is universal.
It's pretty much perfect... every character is fleshed out, there are no plot holes left open... I can't find anything to complain about it! 50 years after its release and it's still very contemporary... damn.
I give it **** out of ****.
I need to say this: THIS MOVIE IS ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC!!! Sure it starts
off slowly, but the fact of the matter is the film is a great story of a
family and the alienation associated with aging. This is the kind of movie
that will make you reflect upon your own family and how you treat
I had never seen an Ozu film before, but now I feel as if I must see them all. His use of cinematic space is incredible. He breaks all sorts of conventions with his cinematography such as violating the axis of action. This gives the viewer the sense of a large, open, unrestricted world.
Going with this realism, the characters seem real; not for a moment did I see the people on the screen as actors. They were the family, and you as the viewer feels what they feel. Part of this comes from the use of head-on-shots such that the characters are speaking TO you.
It is a fantastic, moving piece of work and arguably one of the best films ever made.
Ozu's Tokyo Story is a serene and contemplative look at the breakdown in the
relationship between grown children and their elderly parents shortly after
World War II. The film concerns itself with problems many of us must face:
the struggle to maintain a self-fulfilling life independent of parental
expectations, the changes in relationships wrought by time, and the
inevitability of separation and loss. Ozu does not point the finger at
either parents or children but, like many of his films, offers a thoughtful
meditation on the transitory nature of life.
As the film opens, we see an empty street, empty train tracks and an empty pier, perhaps an early indicator of the sense of loss that pervades the film. An elderly father, Shukishi Hirayama (Chishu Ryu) and his wife Tomi (Chieko Higashiyama) are preparing to travel by train to visit their children in Tokyo. When they arrive, they are met with indifference by daughter Shige (Haruko Sugimura), their grandchildren Minoru (Zen Murase) and Isamu (Mitsuhiro Mori), and son Koichi (So Yamamura), a Tokyo pediatrician. When Koichi is called to visit a patient and Shige cannot leave her beauty salon, the Harayamas postpone a sightseeing trip and start to complain that they expected the children would be living in more comfortable circumstances. Their widowed daughter-in-law Noriko (Setsuko Hara), however, welcomes them warmly and gives them the experience of being appreciated.
To give themselves some breathing room, the children pool their resources and send their parents to Atami, a health spa. Their visit, however, is cut short when the noise and crowds make going home seem like a better alternative. When they get back to Tokyo, Shige tells them she has a meeting scheduled at her house and Tomi decides to spend the night with Noriko. Shukishi, in a very humorous scene, goes out drinking with old friends and shows up late at night at Shige's house completely drunk. When the elderly parents return to Onomichi, the mother suddenly becomes very ill and the entire family, including youngest son Keizo from Osaka, must come and visit them. The moment of epiphany comes when the youngest daughter Kyoko (Kyoko Kagawa) asks Noriko whether or not life is disappointing. Her answer mirrors Ozu's concept of mono no aware, that we cannot avoid the sadness of life, but her beaming face tells us that things are just the way that they are and that it is perfect.
I can vividly remember the first time i saw this movie - it was during
a festival of Japanese movies in an art house cinema here in Dublin. I
must admit to never having heard of Ozu before, i went out of boredom
and casual curiosity. I was embarrassed at the end to find myself in
tears. I quickly wiped them away in that subtle way guys do when they
don't want anyone to know, and got out to leave. What struck me was
that even as the credits were finishing, I was one of the first to go.
As i walked up the aisle I realized that most of the nearly full cinema
was still sitting quietly, without the usual post movie chatter - and
more than half of the audience had tears pouring down their faces. I
have never, ever witnessed that in a cinema.
Since then, i've watched it on DVD, and had to think a lot about why such a simple movie is so powerful, and so many people rate it as one of the greatest ever. And why i find myself agreeing with that rating, i truly think it is in the top 10 ever made - certainly the top 5 of any I've seen. But its hard at first to know why. It doesn't have the greatest script of any movie, there are few things in it that are truly original. The acting is great, but not the greatest ever seen, and the technical qualities are just average. I've come to the conclusion that the reason for its greatness is that it comes closest to pure art in cinema. By pure art, i mean art that in its simplicity but technical genius still reveals deep truths about our lives. When i think about Tokyo Story I don't find myself comparing it to other movies, instead I think of a Rembrandt self portrait, a Vermeer painting, or my favourite short story, 'The Dead' by James Joyce. It is simple, unadorned, and deeply wise. I realise in writing this I'm rapidly approaching pseuds corner, but this is my genuine conclusion (writing as someone who is shamefully uneducated in most of the arts).
Of course there have been many great movies about families, about growing old, about the nature of life.... but I think somehow Ozu achieved a sort of perfection with Tokyo Story. Thats why its the only movie I would give a '10' to.
It was only last week that i saw this film for the first time, and i
instantly loved it. It perfectly sums up the feelings from post war Japan,
and the loss of values the community had to deal with. Our sympathies are
instantly placed with the older generation, who are symbolic of the
traditional values, while we see the younger generation as selfish, and
busy to spend time with their parents. We have a backward view of change
progress not necessarilly being so
Ozu shot the film from a waist height viewpoint, which to the traditional Japanese viewer respresents the view of someone below eye level sitting on a mat. This was the pose of the onlooker, and this constantly reminds us that the film is under the gaze, and we should take note. Like traditional Japanese cinema the camera does not move. Panning is replaced by clever cutting, and the mis-en-scene is very artistic. Using the foreground and background very cleverly to show film as an art in its purest form.
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