In an odd sort of comparison, one could argue that Yasujiro Ozu’s family-centric films are roughly comparable to that of the meat grinder Hollywood crap spewed onto our television sets every time a commercial break ends. The big difference between Ozu’s carefully painted water colors and the Hollywood splatter is the heart and soul that goes into making the former films. Ozu made a name for himself by constantly using family has his thematic backdrop, but the way it’s portrayed has always been fresh with each new discovery.
Tokyo Story sets its focus on an elderly couple (Chishu Ryu and Chieko Higashiyama) that decide to travel to Tokyo to visit their children. However, the sudden visit throw the now grown kids for a loop, and they receive their parents less than gracefully. The only one that seems happy to see them is their widowed daughter-in-law (Setsuko Hara). The more the parents hang around, the more they get jostled between the children and their plastic smiles, until they get shuttled off to a health spa.
Along with Late Spring and Equinox Flower, Tokyo Story is one of Ozu’s stronger pieces. As is par for the course, Tokyo Story roots itself in the dissipation of human interaction. The family struggles to understand itself but allows other things take the lead in importance. No matter who we are, we can always feel a connection with one of the characters. Overworked, inconvenient, hopeful, happy, sad, angry — Ozu mixes complex and simple emotions to craft a thought-provoking study.
Tokyo Story is also a very character-driven piece. There’s not much of a plot to be had, as there are a bunch of people with different agendas and desires. Acting upon them is what sets everyone apart and makes the film interesting. Most people can relate to not wanting to see family at some point or another, but Tokyo Story takes this idea and twists melancholy out of its rag. The film becomes a sort of “what if?” by the time we’re closing in on the end. The question comes to be, at that point, if there will be any change.
The only problem that I ever had with the movie was that it tended to be slow and sometimes just not that interesting. This has generally been the only gripe I’ve had with any Ozu piece. It moves slowly but oftentimes isn’t noticeable. Character interaction is stimulating enough to where I was never wishing the film was over, just that I kind of wanted something more. Scenes occasionally dragged, and some characters repeated themselves too much, but it didn’t pull back on the film overall.
Ozu is most definitely one of the most prominent Japanese filmmakers of all time, and Tokyo Story is another piece that proves his mastery. With the exception of scant points of boredom, the film deserves worship and praise for its subtleties and for crafting a sad yet beautiful family story.