Saturday, September 22, 2012

Tokyo Story - Yasujirô Ozu (1953)

I'd previously said that I wouldn't be covering the #1 and #2 films from this year's Sight & Sound poll. There's already been so much said (including recently) about both Citizen Kane (1941, #2) and Vertigo (1958, the new #1).

But I never said anything about #3!!

Tokyo Story (Tōkyō Monogatari)
dir. Yasujiro Ozu. 1953, Japan.
Sight & Sound 2012: Critics' #3 / Directors' #1
Roger Ebert's Great Movies ... Criterion essay
DVD from the Criterion Collection
Watch via Amazon Instant / Hulu-Plus / iTunes

Tokyo Story trailer (1953)

Father: Anyway, this place is meant for the younger generation.

Seriously, #1 from directors and #3 on the main list? Check it out. Like a couple of other movies, I'd picked up the dvd back when I first started hearing about the movie, watched it once or maybe twice, and it's been sitting around ever since. So I remember the overall theme and plot points generally, but I think I caught more nuances this time around. Parts of the out-of-town older parents visiting that I remember making me sad on earlier viewings kind of made me more angry this time. The way each younger generation treats the older one is wretched, and the older grandson's spazz-out over a cancelled trip into town is a good metaphor for the whole dynamic.

The onscreen compositions are either meticulous, such as actor placement and the interiors with various squares, vertical and horizontal lines... or lyrical, especially Ozu's famous "pillow shots" of various locales. Ozu had a particular way (not sure if unique) of positioning characters so that they're not facing each other, but all facing the same way in parallel. These scenes are often shot with the characters seated on the floor, with the camera about even with eye level. Anyway, I thought it was interesting when they go on a bus tour of Tokyo, everyone in the bus are all sitting the way Ozu characters usually do. (Also true of train riders...)

The little touches keep giving. After yet another display of heedless behavior (especially from the daughter), the mother stays with kind Noriko. And the father hunts down "Hattori, Professional Scribe" from home, now living in Tokyo. He's renting a room to a hilarious pinball playboy (well, the concept was hilarious to me, the kid barely appears in the movie). And their old police chief has also moved to the big city. The three hook up and go on a righteous sake bender. There's no school like the old school! Things get pretty heavy too, but obviously much better than imposing on kids who've grown away.

As frustrating as it can be, I was glad that everything didn't just work out in the end - no-one necessarily learns anything either. Noriko's long-missing husband doesn't ever show back up. Most of the younger generation are still clueless jerks - one arrives home too late, and basically admits that he could have taken an earlier train. Then when everyone's trying to run off again from their parents', he says he needs to leave to get back for a baseball game! Finally, the conversation between the youngest daughter Kyoko (still living at home) and Noriko works perfectly to put everything in perspective(s). Kyoko isn't wrong about everyone being totally selfish, and the smiling wallflower doormat widow isn't wrong that it's just the way of the world. Anyone who's lived long enough has realized they have treated their own parents thoughtlessly before, but what are you gonna do?

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