Directed by Yasujiro Ozu
Starring Setsuko Hara, Chishu Ryu, Haruko Sugimura, Chieko Higashiyama
Yasujiro Ozu has been called the definitive Japanese director. Ozu was making films in Japan at the same time Akira Kurosawa was defining his career with such films as “The Seven Samurai” and “Rashomon”. Where Kurosawa presented the samurai’s life, Ozu presented views of family and relationships. Ozu’s simple story of families resonates the same today as when he made this film in 1953. Criterion has presented one of his finest films “Tokyo Story” in a great 2 disc DVD edition.
The story Ozu tells in “Tokyo Story” is simply yet is emotional and meaningful. Shukichi and Tomi, played by Chishu Ryu and Chieko Higashiyama, travel to Tokyo to visit 3 of their children, Keizo, an office worker in Osaka, Koichi, a moderately successful doctor and Shige, a beauty salon owner. Their middle son was killed in World War II. They have a youngest daughter Kyoko that lives at home with them. Shukichi and Tomi realize this may be the last trip they are able to make away from their country home as they are both getting elderly and have health problems. The children seem vaguely happy to see their parents. In an uncomfortable scene, Koichi is shown introducing his children to their grandparents. It is apparent that he and his children must not visit with his parents often if his children have to be reminded who these elderly people are. However, soon all the children seem to feel the parents visit is an inconvenience and each finds ways to avoid spending time with them or send them away on “spa trips”.
Shige is particularly selfish. While her parents visit, she tells an embarrassing story about her mother breaking a chair at her school many years ago. She teases her mother about being overweight. After visiting with her parents briefly with her siblings, she sends them on a relaxing “day spa” trip that she says they need. Shige is attempting to get her parents out of her house as to not interrupt her daily home life and her work at her beauty salon.
However, Noriko is very happy to see Shukichi and Tomi. Noriko was married to their son who was killed in the final year of World War II. Noriko is the only person that seems genuinely happy to spend time with them. She opens her home to them. She lives in a very small and modest apartment but extends hospitality to Shukichi and Tomi.
Ozu is able to communicate the generous nature of Noriko and the selfish nature of Shige very clearly yet subtly. In one scene, while Noriko can be seen attempting to make the elderly couple comfortable, Shige is seen fanning herself and rolling her eyes in frustration. Ozu’s doesn’t emphasize this with close ups or lighting changes, he merely presents this tiny detail to show the audience the true personalities of the characters. Keizo and Koichi also display similarly selfish tendencies as they avoid spending time with their parents.
Shukichi and Tomi return home and back to their daily life. Suddenly, Tomi falls ill and Shukichi sends out telegrams to all of the children instructing them to come home. As Tomi grows weaker from illness, the children start to realize how their selfish actions have affected each family member. Some appear to be affected by this realization; others merely carry on with selfish behavior.
Even though the story is simple, Ozu has injected it with powerful emotions. Ozu’s main message in “Tokyo Story” is to appreciate family while they are alive and well. Ozu delivers this message with a subtle story and great performances by all actors involved. Ozu fans will recognize Chishu Ryo as Shukichi as he starred in many Ozu films.
Ozu’s films are timeless and the messages and emotions conveyed are universal. It is interesting to note that Ozu never married or had children and lived with his mother throughout his life. This close relationship with family influenced his life’s work tremendously. Ozu’s films are not only entertaining but also strive to understand the meaning of life itself and how humans relate to each other. Ozu’s is not afraid to let the camera linger on his characters or settings. He includes in his films refreshing moments of silence. It is particularly enjoyable to see a film express these sentiments with subtlety and with respect instead of over dramatic and emotionally manipulative films about family and life issues such as “Stepmom” or “Patch Adams”.
To compare the two great Japanese directors Kurosawa and Ozu, I would use the following example: if Kurosawa and Ozu were to make a film about a storm, Kurosawa would show you the power and strength of the storm, Ozu would show you the gentle breezes that preceded it. Ozu is truly one of the great storytellers in cinema and “Tokyo Story” is a masterpiece.
Criterion has done a remarkable job restoring this film classic.”Tokyo Story” is presented in it’s original 1.33:1 aspect ratio Full Frame. I learned through research that the original negative of “Tokyo Story” was destroyed many years ago in a laboratory fire. Criterion was able to secure a print that was in decent condition and was able to remaster the DVD from that print. Overall the transfer is good and remarkably free from grain and dirt.
“Tokyo Story” is presented in the film’s Dolby Digital mono soundtrack. It is presented in its original Japanese language with English subtitles. Criterion has done a good job restoring the sound and the film is free of hiss, crackle or pops. It is certainly not dynamic but still fine considering the original source.
The Bonus Features
Criterion has once again provided excellent bonus features to a historically important film. There is the expected original trailer. However, there is a booklet included as in insert with a interesting essay about Ozu written by David Bordwell. There is a feature length commentary by David Dresser. Dresser’s commentary has a lot of interesting facts about Ozu’s life and filmmaking style.
On disc two, there are two great documentaries included. The first is entitled “I Lived, But…” and is two hours in length. It features interviews with actors Chishu Ryu and Mariko Okada, film critics Donald Richie and Tadao Sato, former students and friends of Ozu and many more. The documentary if very informative and gives an excellent overview of Ozu’s life and career. It is interesting to learn that Ozu’s headstone contains only the kanji symbol for “mu” or “nothingness”. The producers of this documentary use this unusual choice for a headstone as a starting point to understanding this brilliant filmmaker.
The second documentary included is entitled “Talking with Ozu”. It is 40 minutes in length and features interviews with several filmmakers who were influnced by Ozu’s important work. Among these directors are Wim Wenders, Stanley Kwan, Paul Schrader and more filmmakers. Stanley Kwan was not only influenced as a filmmaker but Ozu’s film “Tokyo Story” helped him understand his father and deal with his father’s death. Aki Kaurismaki, a filmmaker from Finland, says that he has made over 11 lousy films attempting to develop the storytelling skill that Ozu possessed. The manner in which all the directors included praise his work to this day is a perfect example of the long-term legacy and power of Ozu’s films.
These documentaries were not produced by Criterion but were well produced and executed. It is great that Criterion was able to attain permission to include them in this DVD.
Yasujiro Ozu would have been 100 years old on December 12, 2003. It is appropriate tribute to his life and work to have such a substantial DVD available of one of his most important films.
Overall (Not an Average) 9/10
The Movie 10/10
The Video 8/10
The Audio 7/10
The Bonus Features 10/10
Overall (Not an Average) 9/10