As we continue our more-liesurely-than-intended stroll through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Movies of All Time list, we come to #003, Yasujirō Ozu’s Tokyo Story. And as always I’ll note that for those just joining us, you can find a full introduction to what the Sight and Sound Top 250 list is, and a look at the complete list of the movies on it, along with links to the ones I’ve already written about here. And, if you want to be sure not to miss any of these posts, just head on over to the Facebook page and give it a “like”or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I post anytime one of these – or anything else on the blog, along with just random other links and thoughts that may not make it into full posts – goes up. Trust me, if you’re not following one or the other (or both), you’re not getting the full Durmoose Movies experience.
When I wrote about Yasujirō Ozu’s Late Spring (which stands at #015 on the list), I noted that Ozu’s films were one of those holes in my film watching experience that I had hoped to fill b exploring the movies on this list. I think it was obvious then that I found he was a director that I was glad to have uncovered, and that I was definitely looking forward to seeing more from the master director. Thus it was with a great sense of anticipation that I approached Tokyo Story, the film that is considered to be his greatest work.
I’m extremely happy to say that the movie rewarded every bit of that anticipation.
Once again, Ozu takes a very simple plot – an aging couple who live in the country decide to go to Tokyo to visit their children and grandchildren – and turns it into a masterpiece of the cinema.
Both written (along with Kogo Noda) and directed by Ozu, the story becomes a slow exploration of the relationship of family and friends and though it often explores the disappointment that can be felt by both the younger and older generations when it comes to those relationships, it always comes across as honest and heartfelt and never delves too far into the possibly more maudlin aspects of these relationships. One feels that in the hands of a less talented or less assured film maker Tokyo Story could easily have become much more confrontational than it is – Cat On a Hot Tin Roof with all of its shouting and it always-underlying sense of heat and desperation this is not. Instead Ozu turns his focus inward instead of outward and lets the characters be still and contemplative rather than forcing them to blaze and boil.
As proved true with Late Spring, Ozu takes his time with the story and brings a stillness to the work that allows it to become almost meditative. There is very little motion to his camera work, and indeed he allows the camera at times to linger and continue to focus on a location even after the characters and action have left it, thus allowing his audience time to contemplate the actions and scenes that they have just seen along with the words that have been said in a way that I suppose could be extremely off-putting to more modern audiences who are used to being rushed from one scene to another by directors who seem to be hoping that their audiences not think about what they have just witnessed for fear that they might find that the film maker has in some way come up short of his intentions.
Ozu also shows a sense of confidence in his actors by never forcing them to go over the top with either their voices or their actions, instead letting their performances match the moment in the film. This is not to say that their are never harsh words said, nor strong emotions expressed, but they are done so in a way that fits each of the characters and there is a sencse that both types of moments, the quiet and the loud, are there to serve the purpose of the film and in truth it feels like there is rarely an extraneous word spoken nor an undeserved or unearned tear shed.
Of course, much of the credit for this must also be shared with the cast, especially Chishū Ryū and Chieko Higashiyama who play the elderly couple with a sense both of foreboding, as though they know from the start that this will be the last time that they will get to see all of their family but also with a sense of tenderness and love towards each other which shines through even the darkest moments of the film.
Summed up, Tokyo Story is one of those rarities in cinema – a realistic seeming portrayal of the heart of a family that is incredibly full of heart and respects its characters, actors, and audience in a way that truly earns it one of the top spots in the list of all-time greats.
Here’s your trailer: