Wyndham Hacket Pain explains why Tokyo Story is the film to watch this week
Some stories need to be fast cut and overblown in order to keep the audience’s attention. Others need to be romantic and overly sentimental in order to make them cry. Yet, in the hands of Yasujirō Ozu, the subtlest and quietest of tales can achieve both these feats. This can be best illustrated in his 1953 film Tokyo Story, which remains one of the most moving films ever made, even with its grainy black and white images.
Tokyo Story shows the journey of an elderly couple to see their grown up children in Tokyo. On this journey they find that their children have little time for them and come to see their children’s lives in a new light. Ozu’s signature style is really perfected in Tokyo Story. His stationary camera seems to observe the lives and events that it is witnessing, while managing to be both emotive and impartial. The framing of Ozu’s shots are always perfectly balanced, and show him to be the true master of spatial rigor. It is these traits which are Ozu’s stylistic legacy, and continue to influence directors, such as Mike Leigh and Michael Haneke, to this day.
Tokyo Story, more than any other film within the Ozu filmography, seems to express the feelings and regrets of Ozu himself. Ozu was a famous drunk, and Kogo Noda, a co-writer of Ozu, once joked that the progress of a script could be determined by how many bottles of sake Ozu had drunk. When the elderly father arrives home drunk one night, he is met with anger, resentment and disdain by his own daughter, clearly expressing Ozu’s guilt for his own drunken habits.
Yet the film seems to go deeper, and explores the defining relationship of Ozu’s life. Ozu remained single throughout his life and lived with his mother until her death, only two years before his, and it is this relationship between parents and their children that is at the thematic heart of Tokyo Story. When the elderly parents show their disappointment in their children, it seems Ozu is once more expressing his own guilt. His guilt that he never got married. His guilt that he never left home. And his guilt that he, as well as all of us, never met the expectations laid upon him.
Image still from Tokyo Story.