Sight and Sound Top 250 – #003 Tokyo Story (1953)

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.

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ts1aWhen 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.

ts3As 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.

ts4Ozu 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:

Top 250 Tuesday – #015 Late Spring (1949) – Part Three

Continuing to wend my way through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Greatest Movies of All Time. This week, it’s #015 on the list,  Yasujirō Ozus Late Spring. For a longer introduction to this series and a look at the full list, just click here. And if you want a heads-up on what I’ll be watching for next week in case you want to watch along, just head on over to the Facebook page or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I’ll generally be posting that info later in the day.

ls7Here we are with a third week spent looking at Yasujirō Ozu’s Late Spring. In case you missed the first two parts, you can get caught up by clicking here for part one and here for part two.

Last time out I spent a lot of time writing about the performances that Ozu was able to get from his various actors, and my feeling that that alone would not only place him very high on the list of master film makers and certainly earn this film its place high on the list of greatest movies of all time. (Just as an aside, by the way, this movie is actually not even Ozu’s top-ranked film on the list, with that honor going to the director’s Tokyo Story, which sits at number 3, and which having now watched this movie I can’t wait to delve into.)

Nonetheless, there aree still a couple of other aspects of this work which speak to both the director’s style and his editing choices that I feel I would be remiss not to touch on, and which inform the structure, design, and themes of the film, while at the same time raising questions of their own.

The first of these is the choice of scenes that Ozu chooses to include and in one particularly striking case, all things considered, not to include.

The first of these choices comes right at the beginning of the movie, where we spend what seems at first like a much longer than needed time at a tea ceremony which, while it does serve to introduce the characters of Noriko and her aunt, does absolutely nothing to actually forward the plot at all, nor does the film ever directly return to this scene nor even reference it again. One might even question then not only the reason for the length of time te director spends on this scene, but even its inclusion in the film in the first place.

ls34In my mind, however, it does actually serve a very practical purpose when it comes to establishing the atmosphere and main conflict of the film. If one takes the main thrust of the movie as not so much being a straight forward will she or won’t she (Noriko) accept the notion of agreeing to an arranged marriage that she is actually opposed to and more about the tension between traditional ways of doing things and those of a more modern world beginning to insinuate themselves into Japanese society, then it is important for Ozu to spend this time establishing those transitions and the pleasure that Noriko takes from being a part of them.

Even more questionable, perhaps, is the amount of time that Ozu chooses to spend on three other activities which take place outside the Somiya home and indeed again outside the direct narrative thrust of the film. These are the play attended by Noriko and her father, a concert at which Noriko is not even present, and a bicycle ride taken by Noriko and her friend Hattori (who is also the Professor’s assistent) which at first makes it seem as though he might be a potential love interest until it is revealed that he is already engaged to someone else, a fact that Noriko is aware of, but many of the other characters are not.

ls33Again, however, as one considers that the real intention of Ozu’s work is not necessarily to simply keep his actually rather thin plot moving forward but to consider the implications of it and the tensions that it creates not only for this one family but for broader Japanese society, it becomes apparent that these scenes are actually quite important as they again highlight the tension between the old world and the new and how each impinges on the other.

In contrast to these scenes, which may seem overly long in a casual viewing, Ozu also seems to make an odd choice in never actually showing any scenes at all taking place during Noriko’s wedding instead jumping from directly before the wedding to scenes taking place afterwards. Of course, this can partly be marked as an accession to Japanese censorship rules at the time, which forbade such scenes (actually, even the discussion of traditional marriage was against the strictest interpretations of the rules), but one suspects perhaps that even had this not been the case, Ozu would not have spent any time at all on the ceremony, because, again, while perhaps it might be seen a central to the plot of the movie, it is actually of little import to the discussion that Ozu is interested in fostering with his audience.

ls30Finally, in keeping with the idea of choices that Ozu, as director, chooses to make as far as what to include and where within the film they should go, there are a number of shorter shots, some of them of seeming irrelevance, which are scattered throughout Late Spring.

First, allow me to take this particular moment to acknowledge the expert camera work of Ozu’s cinematographer Yuuharu Atsuta. These shots, along with the entire rest of the film, are strikingly composed and gloriously shot, and they truly make the most of and showcase the glorious palette that can be achieved even without the use of color. It actually feels throughout the film that the addition of color would be more of an intrusion than an enhancement.

That said, there is still the question of why Ozu decided to include these shots in the first place. I suppose some of them could be written off as simply giving the viewer a sense of place and the surroundings within which his narrative is taking place, though none of them really seem to serve the purpose of a traditional “establishing shot”. Instead, while at times these so-called “pillow shots” can be seen as transitional either in time or space, at times they also seem almost intrusive.

ls32Perhaps the most famous of these, and the one which has certainly generated the most discussion, is the vase shot which occurs during Noriko and her father’s last trip to Kyoto. Just as the pair is settling down to sleep, the director takes the focus away from Noriko to include what seems to be a random shot of a large vase and the window behind it, returning a few seconds later to Noriko who has a different look on her face. After a moment focused on her, the director again returns his eye to the vase, but this time, instead of following it with another shot of his protagonist, he uses the shot as a transition to the next day.

As I noted above, this sequence is one of the most questioned and discussed not only within Late Spring, but within the director’s entire career, and while I won’t, at this point, venture my own opinion, leaving that to those who have spent more time with and have much more familiarity with and immersion in the director’s techniques, I will simply note that even though again, it may seem a random thing to include considering the situation, it is done with such skill and such perfect timing that it doesn’t come off to the viewer as intrusive at all, but instead seems somehow fitting within the overall experience of watching the film.

ls31Which, I suppose, after all these words, seems a fitting point at which to end this particular write-up, because it neatly sums up everything that makes Late Spring and its director great and definitely worthy of its high place on this list of all-time best films. As I said at the start, this work is a true masterpiece which showcases a master film maker making the most of his creative power. It is both gorgeous and thought-provoking in the way that only the best films are, and is one of the reasons that I’m truly glad that I decided to embark on this journey through this list, because without it, Ozu might well have remained a name that was always on the periphery of my viewing experience, but never truly a part of it. Instead, now that I’ve had a taste of his work, had my palate expanded as it were, I find myself quite eager to delve further and see what else he has to offer.

Again, rather than an outright trailer for the film, here is a clip of the nih play scene described above:

 

 

Top 250 Tuesday – An Interlude: Trailers For The Top Ten

sandsSince I’ve found myself with not as much time for a proper movie write-up as I would have liked this week, I thought I’d do something a little different, and give you a taste of things to come with a countdown of the top 10 via their trailers. Actually, “things to come” is not quite accurate, since I’ve already written about three of these (and I’ll link to those write-ups below), but that still leaves seven that I’ve yet to tackle. Anyway, here you go, counting down from number ten to number one:

#10: 8 ½ (Fellini, 1963)

#09 – The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer, 1927) (This is actually a reissue trailer, but It’s the closest I could find to an actual trailer.)

#08 – Man with a Movie Camera (Vertov, 1929) (Another reissue trailer, tis time for a showing with a live score, but it serves the purpose well, I think.)

#07 – The Searchers (Ford, 1956)

#06 – 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968)

#05 – Sunrise: a Song for Two Humans (Murnau, 1927)

#04 – La Règle du jeu (Renoir, 1939) (This trailer is for the Janus Films restoration/re-release.)

#03 – Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953)

#02 – Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)

#01 – Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958)

So there you go. Just a bit of a look ahead. I am curious, though, if there are any of these that you’re particularly looking forward to, or that you particularly like yourself? Which of these, if you’ve seen them, would make your own personal top 10 and which ones wouldn’t? And are there any that you think are overrated, or perhaps there are some further down the list you think should be here in the top ten? Speak out in the comments below and let me know.

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