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Tokyo Story (1953)
|by P. G. R. Nair|
Director: Yasujiro Ozu/ Japan/Japanese/134 mts
Koichi and Shige send their parents to Atami hot springs resort, highly unsuitable for the elderly couple. When they return early to Tokyo, neither Koichi nor Shige is willing to take them in. Only their daughter-in-law, Noriko, a war widow, seem genuinely loving and kind to them; she invites Tomi to stay in her small apartment, while Shukichi must stay at an old friend's. When a drunken Shukichi and his friend are brought to Shige's home by police, the anger and disappointment the parents feel toward their children and children toward their parents send the couple Hirayamas back home.
On the way home, Tomi is taken ill. A stopover in Osaka to recover for the moment finds the old couple reflecting on their life with a mixture of bitterness and resignation. When Hirayamas return home, Tomi gets worse. Their daughter, Kyoko still living at home, sends for her brothers, sister, and sister-in-law. Shortly after their arrival in Onomichi, Tomi dies. Only Kyoko and Noriko seem genuinely saddened. As Noriko prepares to return to Tokyo, the widowed Shukichi extends his gratitude to her for her love and kindness and urges her to remarry. Noriko's contemplative journey home ends the film.
For the sake of drama, Ozu's films do often hinge around a key life event—usually a marriage or a death. But it's the ordinary moments in between that matter most, the kind of moments left out of most conventional screenplays. Take this bit of dialogue from Tokyo Story: Tomi asks her husband, Shukichi (Chushu Ryu), "I wonder what part of Tokyo we're in?" When he says, "A suburb, I think," she replies, "You must be right. It was such a long ride from the station." That's exactly the kind of mundane banter anyone from any part of the globe could expect hearing their grandparents engage in.
Behind the simplicity of the writing is simplicity in staging and composition that the unschooled eye might see as artless. Ozu usually places his camera no higher than the eye-level of a person sitting on a tatami mat and, almost never moving the frame, records the carefully planned movements and gestures of his actors.
By having established the rhythms of Shukichi and Tomi's life together with such precision, Ozu's presentation of the old woman's death, because it's not conventionally melodramatic or histrionic, is all the more deeply felt. When the film ends where it began, with Shukichi sitting on his tatami mat, fanning himself because of the sticky summer heat, this time alone, it's a different presentation of eternity than, say, Dreyer's Ordet. Where Dreyer used resurrection as a metaphor to underline the miracle of life itself, Ozu establishes the miracle of human life by the absence of one life. Though Tomi is gone there will still be the putt-putt of a boat engine in the harbor, the far-off whistle of a train, the endless droning screech of cicadas. And the knowledge that Shukichi and Tomi's children will replace them and one day suffer their fate too. Such is life.
A series of "Hundred Favorite Films Forever"
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