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Tokyo Story by Ozu Yasujiro (1953, Japan) is considered to be Ozu’s masterpiece in all of his works. Post-World War II, he returned to Japan and resumed his passion for film by writing scripts. Tokyo Story was the last script he wrote in Chigasakikan Inn, which was his preferred place to draft out his scripts.
Looking at the Japan Film industry in the 1950s, it is considered as the Golden Age of Japanese Cinema. Tokyo Story is undoubtedly one of the famous works in that time. In current time, Ozu probably wouldn’t have been recognized internationally if not for Donald Ritchie, who analyses the Japanese Cinema and he had wrote an analysis for Ozu and his works. Donald Ritchie also did an interview about Ozu in year 2003 which he mentioned that Ozu is a meticulous man, he would think of dialogues first, he will then fit it to his characters. (Donald Ritchie ,2003)
(The two elderly couple Shukichi and Tomi)
The film follows two elderly couple Shukichi and Tomi who is going to visit their children in Tokyo along with their unmarried daughter Kyoko. On the visit of their elder son and daughter, they felt neglected and distant from them. This is seen in the scene where they are actually accompanied by their widowed daughter-in-law instead of their own children. The hectic lifestyle in Tokyo made the children to react this way and the two elderly inevitably felt guilty; as a burden to their children.
(All the children gather except Keizo who couldn’t make it in time…)
Having felt that way, they made their way home but they decided to head to Osaka instead to visit their younger son. Along the way, Tomi felt ill and she saw her children on her deathbed, except her younger son who arrived too late to see her.
Ozu also made it a point to distinguish the relationship of the children to their parents as they left immediately after the funeral instead of staying on to accompany their father Shuchiki. Noriko stayed on for another day to comfort her father-in-law and this is when we would feel for the couple because we understand the characters’ feelings. This is definitely Ozu’s style where his characters are so deep and relatable to the character. At the end of the film, we see Noriko heading back to Tokyo to start afresh while Kyoko stays on with her father.
Looking at the characters, we could easily see how important time and distance is to maintaining a relationship as well as filial piety, or rather, the lack thereof. Hence, these 2 factors serve as abstract antagonists in the film, separating the family. From the start to the end, we see how Kyoko stood by her parents while her other siblings get more distant to their parents. This leaves us to ponder if Kyoko would be like this if she were to be married or to move into other part of Japan. The narrative of the story is filled with emotions and it allows the audience to relate to the story itself.
The narrative is so powerful that as Roger Ebert says, “It doesn’t want to force our emotions, but to share its understanding.” (Roger Ebert). Furthermore, Telegraph writer Tim Robey added that “the clarity of his social critique here is wrenching and unassailable.” (Telegraph, Tim Robey). Despite being released in the 1950s, it carries a timeless spell with its universal themes that Ozu’s films often include. Even till today, Tokyo Story is regarded as one of the greatest films ever made.
(Low angle shot of the building as a transition)
Just like his previous works, Ozu is known for the technicality in his films for the narrative. Instead of conforming to what everyone in the industry is used to, he places the camera directly in front of the actor, giving an illusion that the audience is part of the story. This technique is commonly used instead of the conventional over-the-shoulder shots for the dialogue in this film and his other films. People who know the filmmaker must know the ‘tatami shot’ where the camera is positioned on the ground, creating the point of view from the tatami mat. He also utilizes the entire area, creating a familiar environment to the audience and he uses 180° cuts to combine the shots.
Ozu is also known for the uses of ellipsis in his narrative; important events are seldom shown in his films and that does not exclude Tokyo Story. For example, the characters Shukishi and Tomi are travelling to Tokyo to visit their children but the journey by train wasn’t shown.
Family and Marriage are common themes in most of Ozu’s works including earlier works like Brothers and Sister of The Toda Family (1941) and his last work An Autumn Afternoon (1962). During the times of war and post-war, families and relationships is something that would strengthen one and I guess Ozu wants his audience to know the importance of it by showing it in his films. Unfortunately, most of Ozu’s older films are currently lost.
Since Japan was being occupied at this time by the Allied forces, and its main islands were in control of by America, its movie industry undoubtedly had American influence. More importantly though, Occupied Japan pushed the nation towards the road of recovery more quickly, hence its incredible economic growth in such a short span of time following WW2. This probably resulted in the ‘rat race mentality’ being adopted as a modern attitude for many young adults of that era, desperate to gain financial success. This obsession perhaps spurs Koichi and Shige’s efforts toward their careers, and thus further separates from their parents.
The film was an inspiration from Make Way for Tomorrow by Leo McCarey (1937, America) as Ozu was impressed by the narrative of the film. Ozu wanted to give a contemporary take on the same topic and he did it his way. Looking at the film, probably being set in the 1940s to 1960s, Ozu used distance as the main antagonist to set the family apart. If we fast-forward the years, Ozu would probably use technology or even the internet to set the family apart.
I have to say, after watching this film, it gets me into thinking of how I would treat my parents in the future. The film engages the audience with a simple and yet seamless narrative it is also certainly not overdone. Ozu’s work has definitely left an impression on me and I think the film would continue to get people thinking of the message that Ozu wants to get through others.
Yasujiro’s Tokyo Story is definitely worthwhile to watch as it encompasses the theme of love and family in a seamless way to get the audience to empathise with the intricately planned characters in its run. The motivation and significance of the characters also reflects the people in current society and I think the film reflects Ozu’s efforts.
About the author: Jasper Yeo loves to ‘cook up’ stories and of course ,food. He also loves to draw and his dream job is to be a writer or a chef.
1. En.wikipedia.org. 1903. Yasujirō Ozu – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yasujir%C5%8D_Ozu [Accessed: 20 Jun 2013].
2. En.wikipedia.org. 1953. Tokyo Story – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokyo_Story [Accessed: 20 Jun 2013].
3. Filmref.com. 1920. Yasujiro Ozu. [online] Available at: http://www.filmref.com/directors/dirpages/ozu.html [Accessed: 22 Jun 2013].
4. The Criterion Collection. 1953. Tokyo Story. [online] Available at: http://www.criterion.com/current/posts/301-tokyo-story [Accessed: 22 Jun 2013].
5. Ebert, R. 2003. Tokyo Story Movie Review & Film Summary (1953) | Roger Ebert. [online] Available at: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-tokyo-story-1953 [Accessed: 5 Jul 2013].
6. Robey, T. 2009. Tokyo Story, review – Telegraph. [online] Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/filmreviews/6911265/Tokyo-Story-review.html [Accessed: 5 Jul 2013].