[Film Review] Tokyo Story (1953) 

Tokyo Story poster

English Title: Tokyo Story
Original Title: Tôkyô monogatari
Year: 1953
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese, English
Genre: Drama
Director: Yasujirô Ozu
Yasujirô Ozu
Kôgo Noda
Music: Takanobu Saitô
Cinematography: Yûharu Atsuta
Chishû Ryû
Chieko Higashiyama
Setsuko Hara
Haruko Sugimura
Sô Yamamura
Kuniko Miyake
Kyôko Kagawa
Shirô Ôsaka
Nobuo Nakamura
Eijirô Tôno
Hisao Toake
Teruko Nagaoka
Rating: 9.1/10

The omission of Ozu’s oeuvre is definitely an unerring embarrassment for any movie aficionado, thankfully TOKYO STORY comes to my rescue, presumably Ozu’s most renowned work, tellingly it merits all kudos it gets, gracefully scrutinising the post-WWII mental disposition of Japanese people, and quietly tearjerking in eliciting recollections and rumination between parents and their children. Parenthood is not for everyone, but we all have parents, we forever hold a sense of regret towards them, especially in the oriental culture, filial piety is the foremost virtue to measure an individual’s worth, at least viewed by other family members.

Ozu’s camera stands or stays in a perpetual static angle, aka. the now famous “tatami-mat” shot, collectedly watches the motions of its objects, the Hirayama family, Shukichi (Ryû) and Tomi (Higashiyama) is an elderly couple living in Onomichi, taken care of by their youngest unwed daughter Kyöko (Kagawa), as the film starts, they set about visiting Tokyo for the very first time, to stay with their grown-up children there, it is a big deal for them, nevertheless, when sojourning in with their eldest son Köichi (Yamamura) and eldest daughter Shige (Sugimura), the couple find themselves become a nuisance towards their families and their busy business, only Noriko (Hara), the wife of their deceased second son (who died in the war 8 years ago), treats them sincerely, brings them to sightseeing, hosts them in her small single apartment. After being sent to Atami for a hot spring spa which turns out to be too rowdy for the elderly, they decide to cut their trip short and return home. However Tomi falls ill on the train, so they have a layover in Osaka, where they meet their youngest son Keizö (Ôsaka), when they reach home, Tomi’s illness deteriorates, all the children head back and Tomi passes away shortly.

The story can be derived from every ordinary family, the common dilemma is when we grow up, parents are slowly slipping from our priority list, for the successful ones, Köichi is a neighbourhood doctor, Shige opens a beauty salon, they are both married and the former has two young children, but they could not spare one day to spend with their parents, either swamped by urgent appointments or find it hard to close her business even for one day. It is a quotidian trepidation can happen in the much-urbanised city, but Shukichi and Tomi take it lightly, in their simple-minded, you can sense their disappointment, but all they do is enduring it calmly, claim that it is a natural course when children grow up, parents should not be in the way of their lives, beyond all the offhand pleasantries and formal proprieties, the bond of blood relations is sharply lopsided, one cannot help but understanding it as a faddish mindset of Japanese at that time, but, over 60 years has passed, the film is still distressing to watch as our world barely changes into a better one. Ozu never married in his entire life, so overtly he had been defying this detrimental malady all his life, in the film, Noriko is a sheer opposite of Hirayama’s self-seeking offspring (bar Kyöko), it testifies that blood doesn’t mean anything at all, which is a lightning bolt to those who deems bloodline as their purest and ultimate legacy in this world.

Performances are uniformly high-end, Ryû radiates with utter aplomb and understanding although it is against his own age to act as a sexagenarian (he was in his early 40s then); Higashiyama calls forth great compassion in audience for her simple and unadorned charisma, Yammer and Sugimura superbly represents two very different kinds of self-obsession, the former is more depicted in a way of thoughtlessness whereas the latter parades her self-pleasing philosophy reeking with a whiff of opportunistic shallowness, but if one observes carefully, the more spiteful one is the former, more than often he awaits the latter to broach on some ill-considered remarks or ideas and then echoes with a genial smile.

The most emotive of all comes from Hara, she is the exemplar of a golden-hearted soul, through her Noriko, Ozu consummately sheds light on the true, the good and the beautiful essence of human nature, Hara has a magnetic affinity on screen, which facilitates herself as one of the most indelible and iconic goddesses in the Japanese cinema, now at the age of 95 and let us truly hope she will always stay with us with good health and longevity.

Tokyo Story 1953

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