Along with Akira Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu is probably the greatest and most important Japanese filmmaker of all time. And while his slightly younger colleague Kurosawa (1910-1998) was mostly more interested in history and is best known for his films that take place during the shogunate or samurai era, Ozu (1903-1963) mostly filmed dramas that the action took place in the present and touched upon the lives of ordinary residents in post-war Japan, their problems. Relationships in the family and the generation gap and the differences between the young and the old are the basic themes that run through his films, and the best example of the work of this influential filmmaker is “Tokyo Story”.
It is interesting how this family drama initially went rather unnoticed and Japanese distributors considered “Tokyo Story” too Japanese to be interesting to foreign audiences. Only when this film was shown in London with a delay of four years, and fifteen years later in America, did world critics recognize this masterpiece, and since then “Tokyo Story” has been regularly placed on practically all lists of the best films of all time. And although the story itself is apparently completely simple, Ozu filmed this family drama without falling into pathos and melodramatics, and he portrayed the situation in post-war Japanese society in a great way.
Here we follow a retired couple, Shukichi (the actor Chishu Ryu was to Ozu what Toshiro Mifune was to Kurosawa) and Tomi who live in a small town in the west of Japan. They have five children, one of whom died in the war, and they decided to visit their son, daughter and daughter-in-law, i.e. the widow of their deceased son, who all live in Tokyo. The eldest son Koichi is a doctor, and the daughter Shige is the owner of a hair salon, and the parents will realize very quickly that their children don’t really have much time for them. The only one who will give them their full attention is their daughter-in-law Noriko, the widow of their son Shoji who went missing in action somewhere in the Pacific and is presumed dead.
There are also the proud and spoiled sons of Koichi who openly do not want to deal with their grandparents and see them as intruders in their own home who disrupt their routine. Very soon Shukichi and Tomi will realize that practically everyone looks at them as a nuisance, a burden, a liability and they are looking to get rid of them and put them on someone else’s back, and this old couple does not want to be seen that way. There is so much symbolism in this film, so the old compared to the young can be seen as an old, pre-war Japan that has not yet gotten used to some new rules that came from the west and adheres to some traditional values, while the younger generations are already starting to remind their peers from the West.
It is a film that brilliantly thematizes the role of old people in society, which is often generally seen as a burden, a problem and a distraction, and Ozu, like no one else, managed to capture the reality and reality of average lives so fantastically. It is an exceptionally emotional and touching film that produces this effect without uplifting the viewer and artificially provoking emotions, as is often the case with many Hollywood films. It is a film whose theme is universal and which is still very relevant today and in which practically everyone can recognize themselves, at least in some situations.
Ozu can also be called the forerunner of the movement called Slow Cinema because he builds the story slowly and patiently develops the dynamics in the relationships between the characters. His camera is static and calm, the scene is minimalist, and he pays a lot of attention to details and little things. This film is the best example of the style that Ozu developed, which is why many later directors highlight him as one of the most influential filmmakers of all time, an innovator who rejected typical Hollywood filming conventions and developed his own style. He is also the author of an interesting biography who started shooting during the silent film era, but he shot all the most important films after the end of World War II.