Tokyo Story

Dir: Yasujiro Ozu
1953
I can’t remember when I first watched Tokyo Story,
but I know it was on crumb-bum video and I hadn’t lived enough.
So here comes Jon Crow shoving DVDs in my hand, shaming me for not watching Mizoguchi and Ozu enough. Fortunately, Criterion are finally getting around to releasing Ozu’s films on DVD. A good transfer of an old film is essential to its enjoyment, I think.
Anyway, “Tokyo Story” is a masterpiece, and not just because everybody says so. It has the emotional cruelty and sparse interior landscape of Chris Ware, but the sort of heart that Ware is only beginning to attain.
The story of an aging couple making a rare trip from their countryside home to the big city, only to be treated as mostly a nuisance by their grown children, doesn’t offer easy explanations to the conflicts on the screen, but suggests much more beneath the surface. That is, we could blame Shige’s bad treatment of her parents to being obsessed with making money, but there are hints that she has some sort of reason, some issues that she hasn’t worked out, something she hasn’t forgiven.
Not that “Tokyo Story” is a post-modern “everything’s opposite” twist-o-rama text, just that the film’s handling of character is so well-drawn that multiple viewings are bound to bring out the numerous levels on which these people think. The father, Shukichi, was apparently a bit of a drunk (as was the deceased son), and may explain the children’s differing responses to him.
The film asks a lot of questions about the parent-child bond, what motivates the breaking of that bond, reality vs. a parents’ expectations, and whether there’s anything to be done about it. When the youngest daughter vows at the end that she’ll never be as selfish as her older sister, there’s no way to say if she’ll be able to keep her word. “Tokyo Story” leaves the viewer wanting to know what will happen to so many of the characters. What will happen to daughter-in-law Noriko, (Setsuko Hara, an Ozu regular), now a struggling widow still young enough for remarriage? What will happen to Shukishi, especially after he is cheerfully damned in a way by the neighbor at the end of the film? (“You will be lonely” she says to him, which could be the film’s brutal message).

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