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Wim Wenders travels to Japan in search of the Tokyo seen in the films of Yasujirô Ozu. Ozu's own Tokyo Story (1953) is a helpful (but not mandatory) pre-requisite to seeing Tokyo-Ga (1985).Written by
This game induces a kind of hypnosis. Winning is hardly important. But, time passes, you lose touch with yourself for a while, you merge with the machine, and perhaps, you forget, what you always wanted to forget.
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Try Ozu's films and Chris Marker's "Sans Soleil" instead
Wim Wenders' praising, honest, confessional, hurriedly made and rather superficial love letter to the great Japanese filmmaker (and essential influence on WW's work) Yasujiro Ozu. This documentary intermingles some footage of Ozu's Tokyo Monogatari (in a bad copy, which is really a disservice to Ozu's art!); highly reverent interviews with Ozu's signature actor Chishu Ryu and longtime cameraman Yuharu Atsuta, both in their eighties but remarkably keen; and Wenders' own discovery (it's his first time there) of a high-tech, overcrowded, Americanized Tokyo, radically different from WW's preconceived image of an almost provincial post-war Tokyo that he had idealized through Ozu's films.
There are beautiful images by great cameraman Ed Lachman, especially the night shots; but overall it's pretty much familiar territory: trains (old trains, new trains, bullet trains), the overcrowded subway, the concrete jungle, the neon signs, the "copycat" fetishism (fake food, fake golf, fake rock'n'roll), baseball games, the video game mania, Japanese politeness, Japanese formality, Japanese impenetrability. It's a traveling journal, narrated by WW himself, where insightful and obvious remarks come in turns. It's a film with too few highlights (Atsuta's interview, Werner Herzog's maniac speech about his search for "clean, pure images"), and inevitably superficial: like all big towns, Tokyo can't be covered and deciphered by a first-timer; and like all great artists, Ozu's unique universe can't be grasped by a couple of interviews, anecdotes or images. When WW talks about Ozu's art, he's of course telling us about himself and his own cinema.
There's a telling sequence, where WW gets to meet French filmmaker Chris Marker in a Tokyo night-bar called "La Jetée" (the title of Marker's landmark 1962 science-fiction/photo-poem short). Marker - who spent considerable time in Japan over the years -- put Tokyo and Japanese culture at the center of one of the most brilliant personal essays/ journals ever filmed, the incomparable "Sans Soleil" (1982). At one point, WW mentions that "Sans Soleil" is filled with "images of Japan not allowed to foreigners like me". Hence my suggestion: if you want to know more about Ozu, watch his films; if you want to see a revealing, knowledgeable essay by a Westerner on Japan, pass on "Tokyo-Ga" and try "Sans Soleil" instead; if you want a deeply insightful look into WW's work, read the great essay on WW "Eyes Can't Be Bought" by Peter Buchka.
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