Family values are bestowed at the core of each individual as they blossom into independence and responsibility, or at least I thought. Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story taught me something different about what it means to be family. More importantly, what it means to be a child of my parents. You can argue about tradition or cultural differences, but the truth of the matter is our connection to our makers runs deep, creating a love and obligation we should maintain.
Tokyo Story tells the tale of two parents taking the trip to Tokyo to see their children one last time. However, obvious actions show the sons and daughter’s unwillingness to reciprocate the multitude of thought and effort placed behind their trip, in fact at times almost getting to the point of becoming painful to watch. Besides the mother and father, an absolute delight to watch by the way, the character that stands out the most is Noriko (Setsuko Hara), the widow of the older couple’s dead son. Although she is not family by blood, a very good argument could be made that she is the best child. Throughout the film, Noriko’s smile never fades. Even when it feels out of place, her face remains locked in that position. It is this feature of the film that makes the payoff at the end so special and touching. Raw emotion floods in and we finally get an honest moment that does not come from the mother and father.
I could talk about the aesthetics of Tokyo Story for days on end. But I will spare you that and instead just talk about a few things that really stood out. Ozu’s style of shooting is really something to experience. Similar to Nobody Knows, this film shares a slow pace that gives its viewer a heightened sense of reality. This slow style of Tokyo Story runs parallel with the slowness that comes with old age. As we see the crawling of the older couple’s movements and thoughts, we ourselves crawl through the film looking up at their actions.
One of the first things I noticed sprouting up all over the film are Ozu’s use of lingering shots. In today’s mainstream cinema this technique is not used very often, thus sticking out the way it did for me. These lingering shots were both interesting and effective, in that in forced me to become more aware of each character’s surroundings. These simple shots brought me that much closer to these character’s realities, allowing me to fully enjoy my movie-watching experience. I find it interesting how such quiet extensions of a bundle of shots can impact me in such a radical way. Perhaps a reason why this film is so highly regarded by those in the industry that are so highly regarded.
Ozu’s uses of symbolism through movement are fantastic pieces of film. In the four opening shots, the viewer sees a boat in the distance moving off the screen, children walking off in the direction of school, a train moving through town, and then a close up of that same train. Four distinct shots, yet all four of these shots share movement. These four shots show change, the changing of times as shown through the children, and I think the changing of expectation. I only believe this, because the very next shot after the close up of the train shows the stillness of a house on a cliff. The solitude of this house says it all as it puts itself apart from everything going on around it. Finally, after the establishing shot of the house, we see the old couple sitting together in the middle of the room. They are the owners of this still house. They have placed themselves in this solitude, or to put it more accurately, they have remained there.
Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story is really one of the most beautifully crafted films I have seen. Clean and honest are two words that help sum up this film. Of course, many other praising words would follow right after. Ozu shows us that family is not the easiest subject matter to write about, but is one we all share one way or another. I would say watch this film, but I hope I’ve done enough convincing as is… watch this film.
Tokyo Story (1953) directed by Yasujiro Ozu