東京物語 (Tokyo Story), 1953
Dir: Yasujiro Ozu
I'm trying to get more into Asian cinema because, from what I've seen, it seems to flow with my own personal aesthetic and pacing. Considering "classics," it seems appropriate to start with a Yasujiro Ozu film, who is probably the bedrock of Japanese cinema. In comparison to say someone like Kurosawa, Ozu is a polar opposite in style and cinematic interests, and Kurosawa and others who really came about in the late 40s and 50s seem to be an intense reaction to Ozu and his strict technical style. I'm going to be honest and say that this film probably is dated, but it only bothered me in the beginning when I really didn't know what to expect. I'm also going to say that I know the majority of modern movie-going people will not enjoy this, or rather, even if they were trying to enjoy this, they wouldn't be able to sit through it. It's not exciting. It's certainly not entertainment. Well, maybe it can be in its own way, if you watch films because you know they can be so much more than just entertainment.
Every review you ever come upon about this will talk about how simple the story, but I suppose that that can not be stressed enough. It is the whole point of the film. An aging couple from a small seaside village come to Tokyo to visit their adult children. I think that this had a powerful impact on me because it is really a lot like a Ford film, a simple story with very subtle messages and subtle characters. It's about how people treat one another, how different generations deal with one another (the great shots of grandma walking around with the younger grandson, asking questions and getting no responses), how society impacts our personal relationships. It's about life. That's a cliche response, I know, but life goes on (as they say), and children grow apart from their parents as they make their own lives. The truly sad thing about all the characters is they they really do love one another, but Japanese culture and the hustle and bustle of modernity rarely let them be informal with one another, which makes the few moments of sincere emotional expression all the more powerful. The "measured" pacing works extremely well with the content. Then again, I'm never one to really complain about that sort of thing.
Ozu's camera is low (as in height off the ground) all the time, and his signature "pillow" shots are fantastic. The camera rarely moves (except in one shot, which is actually a very beautiful tracking shot) and cuts are kept to a minimum. I think the very claustrophobic feeling Ozu creates by confining his characters inside for most of the film's running time only heightens the beauty that is being placed on the images outside. There's a sort of "epiphany" feeling that he creates whenever the camera goes outside, which is great. One thing that I did not expect was the awesome music, sort of a classic Hollywoodish score with a melancholy tone that works well with some of the shots that Ozu inserts of empty hallways or lonely smokestacks. Maybe a little too expressive of what's running under the film, but it worked for me. Ozu also seems just a good at photographing drunk people as someone like Cassavetes. The entire "reunion" scene is incredible and sad. It might help if you watch this clip to get a sense of what Ozu is all about, even his glib humor, or if you would actually want to watch 2 hours and 15 minutes of it. I know it sounds like I'm slagging it again, but I think I'm just being realistic about how most people would react to it.
The ending is not a gut punch. It's not devastating until you really think about. It makes you want to cry about everything, but it's far too subtle (in a good way). It's infused with the Japanese concept of mono no aware, an awareness of the impermanence of things. "Isn't life disappointing?" "Yes, it is."