Quarter To Three Movie Club - October 2018 Film is Tokyo Story - Spoilers Allowed!!

I read Ebert’s Great Movies review and I’m aware that it’s not just going to be awkward family small talk the whole movie but it just doesn’t feel like something that is enough in my wheelhouse to reward another nearly 2 hours of viewing.

I actually had the same reaction you did…and then it turned the corner for me in exactly the way @Rock8man describes. Diametrically so. From boredom to…a zen slap.

That’s interesting, because I’d be hard pressed to tell anyone to stay through if they didn’t enjoy it from the very first minute. I don’t like the movie much, but Ozu has got a fascinating way of pulling me in and not letting me go.

I’d normally agree with you; because it is very rare a film would do that to me. In fact, if I wasn’t going to be writing about it, I’d have probably moved on after the first 20-30 minutes. I was lucky, frankly.

I felt this was as well. I am sorry but, as much as I enjoy some subtitled Japanese art films, I prefer the more, shall I say edgy films. While it may be an excellent art piece, it is not my excellent art piece. Again, sorry.

Spoilers Allowed, Spoilers Allowed!


Maybe I was in just the right mood for this, but I loved it. Quiet, calm, sad, and beautiful. I need a bit of time to process and come back with more detailed thoughts, but in the meantime I’m looking forward to hearing what everyone else thought.

Tokyo Story

As someone watching this movie in 2018, it’s hard not to start watching a movie like this and not get out of your head. Is this an artistic movie of some kind? Why are we being shown so much detail? Is it setting the mood? Is it setting an atmosphere? Is it setting the scene for some conflict to come? Am I being shown Japanese culture circa 1950? Am I being shown this particular family because they are ordinary? Is this family extraordinary in some way that we’ll find out later.

Meanwhile on the screen, there’s the detail. She takes care of the sheets. She bows to her parents just so. We see her go to the next room and the camera follows her. She shuts the door behind her just so. She steps over and grabs her sash. She grabs her bag. She grabs an umbrella. (Is it raining? No? I wonder if weather forecasting wasn’t good enough back then so you always took your umbrella with you?) She steps over the threshold of the room and steps into her shoes. She turns around and shuts the sliding Japanese style door. She opens the front door of a similar style. She shuts the door. We follow her to another shot outside the house. She passes a couple of kids playing in the street. She disappears from view. And we’re back with the parents.

What the hell did I just watch? Why did I need to be shown all that? Is it the slow pace of life, the little details that are a part of these people’s lives? They’re talking about going to Tokyo to visit their other children. At this pace, they might get there by the end of this movie, right? But no, wait a minute. Now they’re in Tokyo, staying with their son who is a doctor. His wife and two kids are behaving like you would expect a dutiful wife and kids to behave. The elder kid is resentful that his room is being used, the young one is shy.

Am I going crazy here? What is going to happen? What is with all these details and the slow pace again? Is this showing Japanese culture, is that it?

By the time they’re touring Tokyo, I am so inside my own head, I’m finally just ready to give up. This director is not giving me any clues. I have no idea where this is headed. I have no clue what I’m watching. Is this going to be a travel guide? Are we really going to tour 1950s Tokyo? But it looks so plain. Is that because I’m viewing it through 2018 eyes? Would I be impressed with Tokyo if this was the 50s? I don’t think I would. It’s just boring old modernized post-World War 2 Western looking square buildings for the most part.

I think this was the point where I reached an almost zen like state every time I put this movie on again. When my son wasn’t interrupting my viewing, I would put it on, and I would watch these two parents go over the trivialities of visiting Tokyo to see their children, and I started getting out of my head. What was going to happen was going to happen. I wouldn’t be able to predict it.

The kids are busy with their own lives, and that’s understandable. There’s a daughter who is playful and yet mean and yet understandably selfish about her own life. I oscillated between thinking ill of her, but then seeing myself in her and realizing that her actions were pretty understandable. When she brings together her siblings and comes up with the idea of sending the parents to a nearby resort town, I’m almost relieved. See? She’s thoughtful, she’s looking out for them whilst getting them out of their hair (she runs a salon).

They’re at a perfectly nice resort. They enjoy the sun and sea and the salt air. And they decided to get up early the next morning to watch the sunrise together. And then, just when I’d completely stopped looking for it, the movie changes. It happens so organically, I never saw it coming.

You see, this is a resort for young people. The couple can’t sleep because there’s people playing cards and generally having a good time. There’s a BAND playing NEXT TO THEIR ROOM for god’s sake. It’s hot and uncomfortable as they lie in bed using hand fans to keep cool. There’s no way they are getting any sleep in this environment.

Everything that follows, their decision to go back to Tokyo and then go home, their daughter not expecting them and not being able to take them, it feels like a natural consequence of their decision to return. The sudden dilemma of where to spend the night is just so urgent, and it’s completely natural and not contrived and just bears out because of the circumstances. I was suddenly so enraptured, so worried for these old folks. I don’t know how or when it happened. Why was I so worried about their situation? Where would they sleep for the night? As the mother goes to sleep with her daughter-in-law (wife to their son who likely died in the war), she has a heart to heart with her and is treated very kindly. The husband doesn’t fare so well. The childhood friend he visits is renting out their extra room.

As tense as that night is, when we get through it, and they are finally at the train station heading home, it’s almost a relief. The mother’s subsequent sickness really affected me deeply. When they talk about how they’ve raised their children and if they did a good job, I really feel like the movie has given me so much of the information to judge their children along with them. In the end when the children gather, the conversation between the daughter-in-law and the youngest daughter is one of the more brutally honest ones I’ve seen, and it’s exactly how I was dueling in my head about judging these children. They are busy with their own lives. And yet, they are selfish, and they should strive not to be.

I’m still amazed at what this movie is able to accomplish. Weren’t we looking at little overloaded details that just slowed down the movie and didn’t really tell us anything? Did we really need to see her pack her back, to grab that umbrella? Did we need to follow the girl outside as she headed into the street? And yet, there I was, when the crisis came, I was deeply affected somehow. The magic of the filmmaker managed to somehow draw me in, and really get inside this family’s relationships. It’s a simple enough relationship that the slow, languished pace helped me get acclimated to the life and speed of these parents in their late years, and to really empathize with them when their troubles started and their regular slow life got interrupted.

Honestly, after I finished watching this movie, I went to my parent’s place, and I sat down and talked to them, and asked if they needed help with anything and did a couple of chores for them. It’s easy to get wrapped into your own problems and in your own head, and you sometimes forget that it’s your duty to be good children to your parents, and just a few minutes of your time can mean so much to them.

This was an absolutely beautiful movie, and even though the pace and the long length, and the subtitles make it hard to recommend to a modern audience, I would still say that if you can just keep coming back despite any interruptions while watching this movie, you’ll be highly rewarded. It’s really rare when a moment of conflict comes in a story and it doesn’t feel at least a little contrived. But here it’s so natural and so consistent with the real life aesthetic of the movie that I can’t help but admire what is pulled off by the story, and how it left me feeling at the end. Bravo.

A special thanks to @charmtrap for nominating such a great movie.

So I have lots of thoughts on the movie, including a particular focus on the cinematography. Because it’s interesting how static everything is.

I will say that I can see why it gets the praise it does. Which is equal parts the quality of the movie itself, as it is the type of movie it is being one that tends to be particularly favored among film critics.

The movie does go places, but for about the first 2/3 of the film, it is understandably hard to diss out that will be the case. Basically the first two hours are building to earn the last ten minutes. If anything the last ten minutes stand out for how incongruous they are with the very restrained and understated direction of the first two hours.

And to get at what @Rock8man was going for, this is very much a cultural thing. Japanese culture, like many Asian cultures, expresses itself very differently than the US. Interestingly enough my experiences working with Indians, and for an Indian company, definitely emphasize things for me. In fact one of the things that struck me is how ‘western’ the oldest daughter is. Which was definitely picked up on, she was cast in the least sympathetic light, and part of that is due to her more direct and blunt expression of her own desires.

There is a lot of subtle things happening that would be easy to miss, in terms of the communications. The entire family dynamic I think only works in context of a specific place and time.

Ozu has a style, but for my part, I definitely prefer how Kurosawa operates better. The camera is allowed to move Ozu!

I didn’t notice it, but @Navaronegun made me realize yesterday I was coming to the movie differently than the first-time watchers (doh!), having already seen it multiple times a long time ago, but thus being familiarized with the plot, and thus the reveals were not reveals at all to me.

I apologize if this isn’t very constructed or intelligible (as usual for me, cough). But I had kept only four notes, and watched the movie two weeks ago, so I’m going ad-lib!

That was a great read, @Rock8man, and I am very glad you shared (at the last minute, like in the movie!) the reveal of what the movie meant for you in the physical world.
But as my namesake implies, I shall be the “half-empty” to your “half-full”!

Ozu is a very dark director. And this is probably his darkest movie. Usually, his darkness is packed with comedy (or even fart jokes), as it is very polite to smile at the face of despair, but I thought that Tokyo Story was dark through and through.

It showed selfish people, and how everybody is, no exception. Sure, the partly westernized in their attitude Japanese are openly selfish, or should I say self-involved, but so are Noriko and the father — maybe to an even greater extent.

The father takes advantage of being half-drunk, the only occasion you are socially allowed to express yourself without too much a restraint in Japan, to infer how inappropriate he thought the way he was hosted for his trip was. Him having had a terrible night before at a beach resort hotel, one may think it is related to that, but he states how disappointed he is of the social situation of his son, even that he feels this son is a failure, as is supposedly apparent in the popular neighbourhood his house is located. He strikes me as the ultimate selfish character, one who is not only self-involved, but thinks others should dedicate themselves to his splendour — and oops, I’m home, let me puke on your tatami.

Noriko, the central attraction, shows a proper, expected face most of the movie. Is she doing it out of respect, or because of social obligations toward one’s elders? Or could it be guilt, after what is revealed with her talk with the mother, or even that she sees sparks of her beloved husband in his progenitors? We could be left wondering, but she takes on herself to spill all out the fact she only really wants to think of herself, yet isn’t allowed because of her social statute, and the slight side issue that she has been utterly ravaged and destroyed by the war. What does she really think? I was left being sad for her, somewhat terrified of her, a bit outraged by her. How amazing that the person that is this plain, obedient nursing woman most of the movie is its biggest mystery, even after watching it so many times.

The only exception maybe the mother, who isn’t overtly selfish, but the comment might be that she was the only one not to take a spot to express herself, and that the patriarchal society won’t offer her such an occasion.

The usage of fans was an interesting way to display selfishness: quickly flapping moves destined at one’s face for more, then Noriko slowly moving the air toward her in-laws at dinner, while not eating herself.

Probably some Western commentator has reflected about how all those characters may be allegories for the Japanese society of the time (as with about any Ozu movies, I guess), but I dislike that sort of weighted attitude, especially since it is my opinion that Japanese society hasn’t changed that much and is still caught in a time capsule. But I also don’t think that was the intent of the director at all, who has always seemed focused on depicting characters.
On that front, sadly, I think he is let down because the acting is very questionable. Japanese acting is almost always supposed to feel fake, because it is partly what is expected of it, but I think that it is also because of the will to convey emotions the Japanese people are used to hide. Most actors just cannot. I prefer Ozu’s silent movies for that reason as, at least, exaggerated acting is expected back then. But in Tokyo Story, the terrible acting of a lot of the parts was really troubling me. Some actors even felt like they didn’t really understand their characters (the father or the youngest son, for instance).
Ozu probably invented the “vegetable posing” of actresses — the awkward filming of a woman who stares at a camera, swaying and smiling in a not particularly smart way — which is still so popular nowadays in Japan. I dislike it, but to his credit, there is nothing voyeur-ish in the way he does it — and the males are sometimes subjected to it as well. While Setsuko Hara isn’t a really good actress, in my opinion, in her routine, she obviously gets what Ozu wants, and the way she delivers some horrible lines (the most obvious one being “Human exchanges/Life/Times/Society is horror,” delivered casually and with a smile to the youngest daughter) makes me more sympathetic of her.

Having spent a lot of my life in Japan now, this was very interesting as a time piece as well. Some of the old, “literary”, Japan’s artefacts (before the 1946 massacre simplification of the language) can still be seen (the Hiroshima writings in the stations for instance). It can also be felt in some of the dialogues, who are little pieces of beauty (“I’ve decided not to grow old.”, which is probably a lame sounding translation).
The Noriko character had perhaps a shocking value when I watched it before (I remember wondering how someone could be so broken). I am in a very dark place of my life, and I couldn’t help but agree with her pessimistic way of seeing life now.

Noriko has always been one of my favourite Japanese names, from as long as I can remember. Uh, that’s funny now that I think about it.

Baring midsummer and midwinter, you always should have an umbrella with you in Japan.

It really didn’t change much, if at all, in my experience.

This is what struck me the most when I watched it, especially in contrast to Kurosawa, which is my main reference point for 50s Japanese cinematography. It’s not all bad though, as it really emphasises his remarkable, almost Mondrian-esque shot composition.

I didn’t get very far, as I expressed earlier, but there’s an early conversation where the mother is talking with one of the daughters (I think - I could tell the characters apart but wasn’t totally clear on their relationships) about how it really wasn’t a long trip to get to Tokyo at all that seemed to be very clearly implying that said daughter was being remiss by not visiting them. (Shortly followed by some really gross fat-shaming of the mom by the eldest daughter.)

As Craig mentions, Japanese (and other Asian) movies tend to be very high-context (i.e. implication through context rather than outright stating things) where American movies are very low-context. I find this fascinating and rewarding of my attention in more active genres - thrillers, horror, action, etc. But it makes it really hard for me to take movies like Tokyo Story.

I agree with how dark this story was. I was interrupted several times during this movie and stopped it for that reason, since any small distraction meant I couldn’t look at subtitles anymore, so my threshold for what constituted an “interruption” was much lower. But during the final sequence I was not interrupted. I was watching, and I couldn’t watch anymore. I wasn’t crying, but when the kids gathered and the last son showed up too late when the mother was already dead, I just couldn’t take anymore at that moment, so I stopped the movie. I had to step away for a day or two and think about it and clear my head.

What’s insidious about the despair is that it’s just putting a mirror out there, forcing you to look at the way things are. I would have been fine with most of that being left unsaid. But when I finally did come back to the movie, I was really glad to see Noriko saying these things to the daughter out loud. And then saying them out loud to the father at the end.

I disagree about the father being the ultimate selfish character. Is it wrong to expect some attention and care from your children in your older years? I suppose that could be looked upon as selfishness. For the most part I liked his attitude of just taking everything in stride. He doesn’t necessarily like the circumstances of their visit, or the situation of his children, but it is what it is, and you have to deal with it, and everyone does the best they can.

Both the mother and father try to impress upon Noriko that she should move on, and not worry about their son who is likely dead. Even though Noriko feels guilt for not thinking about him more, and staying loyal to him in her thoughts, they both want her to move on, get married to someone else and be happy. She is in a bad situation, but I actually agree with the mother in that it’s a situation she is putting herself in with her own guilt. She can get out of the mental prison she has put herself in if she allows herself to do so. Honestly, Noriko is the least depressing part of the story for me. She’s the one note in the movie’s opera that’s not despair. Not only in how she treats the parents, but in that she is a nice person through and through, and there is always the possibility of her situation getting better if she allows it to.

@Left_Empty that’s some good stuff. There are some things I was leery of pointing out, the father characters acting for one, because it can be difficult to separate what is poor acting from cultural differences in expression. But, yeah, the father has basically one facial expression, that often doesn’t fit the moment. This permanent half smile. ‘Mother is going to die by dawn’ ‘oh I see’ with this half smile look.

Also I love the term vegetable pose you used. It is definitely most notable in how Noriko gets it.

I would say that the father and mother do have some selfishness that is less overt, as you mention they complain about their children not meeting expectations, but they also come back to that later and acknowledge they are not being fair. So they recognize their own selfishness.

On the expression front mentioned, i have to compare it to my other contemporary point of reference, namely Kurosawa films. Toshiro Mifune is so expressive, almost over the top at times, but capable of dialing it back. See Rashomon for example. And I know it might be odd to call his performance ‘dialed back’ there, but while there is a lot of very expressive movements, there is also a subtlety at times as well. But other actors in his films convey emotion too. I don’t really get that here, facial expressions are fairly binary.

Everything is framed like a portrait. Clearly Ozu thought about exactly how his shots would be framed. I can respect that even if I find it stylistically not as interesting. Going back to Roshomon I saw a breakdown of how Kurosawa used the sky in that film. The writer asserted, and provided evidence for, the claim that in that film Kurosawa used camera angles to show the sky when a character was telling the truth, and omitted the sky when they were telling something that was not. And how the woods themselves obscuring the sky, only occasionally letting it through, worked metaphorically for how the truth was obscured of what happened there. That is the kind of craft I find interesting. And the kind of thing I think Ozu is lacking for. By using the limited framing types he does, it restricts the expressiveness of the film.

It is a good movie, and I understand why it is so critically lauded. The subject matter definitely fits with what we traditionally call ‘Oscar bait’ stylistically, so critics tend to overvalue this type of film. So looping it back to the early claim about it being ‘the best Japanese film of all time’ and my initial scepticism? Well ultimately I land back at my original position. It is a good movie, but it isn’t even the best Japanese film of its decade in my book. It’s just too artificially limiting. As a character focused work, I find Rashomon surpasses it, for most of the reasons I brought above. They are certainly very different works though.

I’ll weigh in on Tokyo Story later today, but this perception of Kurosawa and Mifune in Japanese cinema, is a bit thin, and only seen through the lens of Jidaigeki and Chambara. Both Kurosawa’s direction and Mifune’s performances in High and Low, Stray Dog and The Bad Sleep Well just to name a few, are quite different, and far more subdued, than in say, Rashomon or The Seven Samurai, for example, and not unlike the characters in Ozu’s film.

Kurosawa used the past as a setting, specifically because it was a romantic era that allowed for more expressive performances emotionally. Culturally, they made sense in that context.

I wanted to just give a broader frame of reference regarding Kurosawa and Mifune who are most people’s point of entry and comparison regarding Japanese Cinema in terms of direction and performance.

I haven’t seen most of his earlier works, outside of the big ones. Too many movies and too little time. But I did watch parts of them, and it just drives home that Mifune is a terrific actor! Watching some scenes from High and Low in particular struck me with that.

Certainly, and I’d be lying to say that it was otherwise for me. It’s Kurosawa and Hayo Miyazaki that are my entry points. And, really, for good reason too. If someone completely unfamiliar with Japanese cinema were to ask, I’d almost certainly start there. Even though I’ve seen a broader spectrum over the last decade plus, but with lots of unexplored ground still, they are definitely my favorites of their forms.

And I’m sorry for breaking into such a digression, but the reality is that Ozu’s style is so different that what works and doesn’t work for me is invariably linked to the cinematography. It’s no coincidence that my favorite scene in the film is the post mourning dinner with the family. It’s the moment in the film where all pretense is dropped, and they reveal who they really are, but before the monologues that feel like the director spelling out the implicit message of the previous two hours.

There we see the one daughter at her selfish best, and we see some reaction to it, an acknowledgement of it. The youngest realize what he’s been as a son. The oldest seeing the limitations of what he can do. Each of them confronts their flaws in some way, and their responses are interesting. The oldest son feels like he wants to be a better son, but the oldest daughter pushes him to leave because she wants to leave. So, rather than push back against her and point out her flaw, he gives in and enables her. That is his flaw. The youngest son says he wants to be better, but he ultimately wants to just do his own thing, and go see the baseball game. ‘I’ll do better later’ basically. The youngest daughter gets resentful, and you see hints of that in this scene (before she unloads with Noriko). It’s the payoff, and the best scene in the film I think.

I will say that the oldest son seems to be the best actor of the lot. Because if he had one expression, like the actor who plays the father did, I feel it may have diminished this scene. Sorry, I just didn’t like Chishu Ryu’s performance.

To go back to your talk about the camera work, I am very basic person when it comes to visuals, and I confess to having next to no cinematographic culture, so forgive the incoming poor wording.
When I read comics, I already have a hard time paying attention to the image and concentrate on the text. When I hear somebody talk in a movie, I have often difficulty paying attention to the director’s intent, if there is any, as much as to not notice it. Which is precisely what may have happened to me in Rashomon — I need to watch this one again!
This is why I like, in Ozu, the static (painting?) approach: I can examine in details the little gestures the humans are doing. It’s something I am fascinated with in real life as well (which is fine when I watch over an artisan’s shoulders, but I get criticized for what seems like fixating people while not listening to them, too often, at dinners). Quite a few other Japanese directors share this static approach, although they don’t often capture so mundane scenes, which is what fascinates me probably the most in Ozu. Cinema at its magic lantern root, I guess.
That being said, I enjoyed his pessimism more in I was born, but… (what a terrible title!) than in the present movie.

This is going to be long, personal and given I’m helping myself to a glass of wine, probably rambling too, towards the end…

An unusual watching

I watched this movie this afternoon, in a hospital room, as I gave company to my father, who is on his fifteenth day into a deep coma. The rythm of the film editing resembled the rate at which the drops of the brain fluid drainage fell. Prognosis is dire, yet still uncertain. He is relatively young (66) and this has been very unexpected.

It obviously made for a very strange experience. It was not that the film stirred anything I was holding inside, or that it gave any insight in the proccess I’m going through. I found it, for lack of a better expression, self-evident. I could not help but nod along as I was watching it (it was clear to me one of the parents was going to die from the beginning).

This, obviously, is going to influence how I’m approaching the film this particular time.

On style, artyness and aesthetics

Some other time I would put on my formalist hat and engage in what’s going on with framing here (Bordwell’s essays are a good intro, although I prefer Mark Cousin’s analysis of Ozu as a true classicist). But today I find discussions of Ozu’s specific stylings, well, uninteresting.

It is, in my opinion, a true pity that people didn’t get to finish the film due to it’s particular approach. Beyond the specifity of Ozu’s filmmaking, it does belong to a broader style of narrative films that is quite common in World Cinema (an attempt to use the stylization to remove artifice, long shots with little editing, allowing empty time to pass, avoidance of romantic or expressionistic stylization and symbolism…) that I fear might be an acquired taste. In the same way I don’t think anybody can truly enjoy the first (pre-1930) silent film they watch, I think being accustomed (or not) to this slower pace, austere narrative style might be an issue at play.

For me the movie was engaging from the get go. I did not feel it was slow, or that there was little plot development. I was interested in watching the events playing out in from of me and to decipher the interpersonal relationships and subset of each scene. It felt way easier to watch than most contemporary (1940s) Hollywood films which I frequently find unwatchable due to the extremely stylized aesthetic (there are many exceptions, but it’s one of my less favorite periods). It felt (and I’m aware how crazy this is when talking about a movie with this framing) natural.

It seemed to take away most of the (perceived) artifice (editing, pans…) so to allow me to experience the movie in a very non-obtrusive way. This is a very personal viewpoint, of course, but the austerity allowed for truth to come out. Not that finding truth needs to be the end all of every film, or that it can’t be done without stylization (In the Mood for Love, which was also nominated this round, finds it, imho, through quasi-impressionistic mannierisms), but I have to acknowledge this particular style of narrative is perhaps my favorite, all things considered.

Now, I agree the acting was uneven. Thankfully I can put myself in a “ignore bad acting” mood everytime I watch anything pre-1960 (or there were very few movies I would enjoy) and also my knowledge of Japanese is minimal enough to help.

On themes and darkness

I disagree this is a dark movie, or it didn’t feel that way to me. Now, and obviously, the personal circumstances of the viewing weight heavily here, but I found it positive, calming, and somewhat luminous. It’s life, in it’s imperfection, but also in it’s goodness. I did not find any character selfish beyond the natural, and certainly everybody ended up feeling like a good son or father, although certainly each tied to his circumstances. Everybody acts like people I know. A little selfish, a little self-centered, but loving enough. When the mother at the station says she doesn’t think they’ll see again the sister seems genuinely shocked. They are not rejecting their parents, they are managing them as they go on with their lives, perhaps a little bit naively unaware time is running out.

I loved the scene when the son who is a Doctor informs the family of what’s about to happen. Both my parents are doctors. I’ve had similar conversations recently, more than I would have liked. It felt very real, the matter-of-fact way he addresses them. The emotion subdued with the knowledge of the likely outcome, the grieving already in course as everybody else’s starts. Anyway, in my experience that’s how doctors talk in those circumstances, and I was very impressed at the handling of the scene.

I did feel Noriko shifts at the end of the movie, and that her selflessness does ring somewhat hollow, but also true and understandable. She is the darkest character, not in intention, but because there’s no life ahead for her. Her lack of selfishness, her lack of acknowledgement that life goes on, gives her a dark future indeed, for she is the only one who, as the movie ends, has not moved on and perhaps won’t. In the conversation with the younger sister she seems aware of this, but unable to really change it. I think when she says “perhaps even I will become like that” she is being hopeful rather than cynical.

But overall, I think I’d like to go back to the drunken conversation in the bar. “You are fortunate, for you have good sons” says the friend to the father, and ultimately I think I agree. It’s a sad movie, a movie about a great unexpected loss, and the lost opportunities that go with that, but most of the characters seem to be living good, happy enough lives for their circumstances. Nobody (but perhaps Noriko) gives up on life, nobody is damaged beyond repair. Life goes on, and, while sad, it’s perhaps ok.

I may be reading too much into this, but marrying again in Japan, especially when you are going into your 30s, is really hard nowadays, and must have been even harder then. I thought they were saying what they thought was expected for them to say, but didn’t really care (this may be a strong word for what I mean to say) either way.
But again, we all put our own bagages into such sort of movie!

Oh that’s totally right, but it felt so organic I didn’t notice it.

I think this is very much a cultural difference: making fun of someone that way may look sadistic to us, but is considered a refreshingly childish play there — which doesn’t mean there is no trauma to speak of, that is up to the individuals: only that holding grudges over it would be considered inappropriate.

Tokyo Story

Qt3 Movie Club OCT 2018

Existentially Undone by Normalcy


Tokyo Story slowly undermined my sense of security in what I expected from it until it tore my spirit/heart/soul/self into several pieces, leaving me with an aching ennui afterwards that I still can’t quite describe. Because I thought it was going to be a story about an old couple from the provinces who come to the big city to visit children who are too busy for them. And it was about that on a surface level. But what it was really about was the omnipresence of death, and how different people have different levels of awareness of this existential fact, this mortality.

And that it is harder to maintain a sensitivity to this essential human fact, this mortality, when we have moved from the patterns of a family-based life and existence to one of technological modernity in what seems a very long time, but is merely the wink of an eye, socially speaking.

And when we have built this cutting-edge, technological society, that is cold, fast paced and unforgiving in a very brief period, eight years in the case of the film. Because only eight years prior, this Tokyo, this title city of the film, was in ashes and burned to the ground. We are all living in this new Tokyo, built on a graveyard, and we are lucky if we have any sons left, so losing one son, well we should be grateful we only lost one son, right? Right?

Part One: Outside

This is the shot that started to break me down. That started the undermining. See, before this point, Ozu uses his static, three feet off the ground, 50mm static shots, but confines himself mainly to interiors. There are exterior shots, but Ozu uses them as transitions; always giving you an exterior of a neighborhood or an area near where the next interior action is going to take place. As well, the family’s story seems pretty mundane. Mom and dad talk about visiting Tokyo, the Son’s family gets ready, a Grandson is selfish. Minor, normal family issues. Here is how Ozu normally was using the outdoors. As a transition.

Anyway after Grandma decides to take a walk with the younger Grandson after the days’ plans are disrupted by busy life, we see this shot.

And we see action captured outside for the first time. We see the oldest and youngest generation of together in a now outdoor open space that we have only seen used in transitions before. And this is affecting. And subconsciously unsettling. Grandma openly asks the young boy, with anxious emotion, for the first time in the film, I might add, if she will ever see what becomes of him. Will he be a doctor like his father? It’s surprising, and anxious. This is where Ozu started to undermine my expectations.

Outside again is where we get the first hints later that all is not well with Grandma.

Right after this scene she appears weak while arising. But they, and we, think nothing of it.

I’ll follow up soon (within the next day) with Part Two. I have no idea how many segments my comments will have.

P.S. Thanks to @Rock8man, @Left_Empty, @CraigM, @malkav11, @Ginger_Yellow and especially @Juan_Raigada for their comments today. They made me rethink my strange swirl of reactions to this film yet again, while embarking on writing about this experience today.