CLASSIC CINEMA - IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT
DIRECTOR: YASUJIRO OZU\
STARRING: CHISHU RYU, CHIEKO HIGASHIYAMA, SETSUKO HARA
The storyline: It’s about an elderly couple from a seaside small-town of Onomichi planning to make a trip to Tokyo to visit their children, who apparently live established lives over there, and how every son or daughter of theirs turns them out citing monotony and bustle in their respective lives, and how in the end there’s a death and subsequent circumstances to mark the irony of the whole thing. Well, in short, master director Yasujiro Ozu’s TOKYO STORY is a social drama that touches upon how clockwork and insensitive urbanization makes people.
The funny thing here is, just as ‘western’ critics saw ‘Crime and Punishment’ as nothing but a peek into the psychology of a killer, we find the same fate here as filmcritics see this as just a ‘cinematically vivid’ film (and hence hailed as one of the ‘ten best films ever’ by SIGHT & SOUND magazine) and not the ‘social masterpiece’ it is. Hence TOKYO STORY is renowned for adopting the technique of ‘ellipsis’ where important events are narrated and not shown, as well as low-angle shots where the camera seldom moves. I guess those are what the Americans saw in the film: Here’s what I felt about it.
Undoubtedly, TOKYO STORY isn’t a kind of film you would tolerate if you had on mind a ‘lively classic’ that ‘moves’. It’s incredibly slow-paced and there’s such inactivity in play that it’s like you see nothing but real life before your eyes. And there’s a considerable lack of impact in many sequences, particularly those involving the mother and the daughter-in-law where the characters are shown speaking directly to the camera in straight-face shots, and not to each other, which takes a toll on the amount of impact loaded in the words written. Also, Ozu often chooses to show a totally still locale right next to the active room. For example, there’s a sequence where the footwear of the elderly couple are shown, instead of themselves, struggling to get a night’s sleep.
Apart from cinematic details, TOKYO STORY is an unbelievably ‘good’ film where ‘goodness’ brims as much as the ironically cold laugh he laughs, its effects chilling us from head to toe. Particularly intriguing is the youngest child asking the daughter-in-law, “Why aren’t you mean like them?” to which she serenely responds, “It’s merely a matter of time…” Brilliance. Considering this film was conceived in 1953 where familial bonds were only on the verge of starting to deplete, I have to say that this film is not just ‘applicable’ to the present day, but rather ‘compulsory’. After all, one cannot ‘serve his parents beyond the grave…’