Tokyo Story | Dir. Yasujiro Ozu | Japan (1953)
Screening on Saturday February 2, 2013 | 7:00 PM Eastern
TIFF Pacific Cinematheque
Tokyo Story is a bittersweet film by internationally accalimed filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu that tells the story of an elderly couple, Shukishi and Tomi Hirayama (played by Chishu Ryu and Chieko Higashiyama), who pay a visit to their children in the bustling city of Tokyo. The plot explores the couple’s observation of the city and contrast it to their own life experiences, as they respond to the treatment from their daughter, son and daughter-in-law.
The film begins by introducing Shukishi and Tomi who live in a smaller sea-side town of Onomichi with their youngest daughter, Kyoko. The film moves to Tokyo, where the rest of the family members reside, and with whom the couple wishes to spend time.
The audience is quickly made aware of the Hirayama familial strains, politics and emotional distance. What is initially seen as genuine hospitality and welcome on the part of the eldest son and daughter gradually dissolves into disdain and annoyance over the course of the couple’s visit to Tokyo.
However, the bitterness that seems so pervasive amongst the children is trumped by Noriko (played by Setsuko Hara), the couple’s widowed daughter-in-law, who steps up to ensure that her in-laws are well entertained during their stay. She is recognized as the filial daughter-in-law who goes above and beyond to take care of the elderly couple’s needs. She invests time and effort into the relationship with her in-laws even though they urge her to remarry.
Despite their relatively minimum dialogue, Shukishi and Tomi’s quiet interdependence is understood as a form of intimacy that seems to be lacking in their children’s marriages. At one point Tomi says to Shukishi “If we got lost [in Tokyo], we’d never find each other again.” This particularly poignant moment speaks of their support and reliance on each other that has developed over their years together and the importance and value of familial relationships.
The film also deals with happiness, disappointment, change and intergenerational disparity. The film slowly builds each character’s personality as they interact with each other. As seemingly simple characters develop and become more complex ones, so does the viewer’s understanding of the family in the film.
The closing scene is almost identical to the opening one; however, there is a huge difference in the emotional state of the characters who are now more developed. Left with the cacophony of urbanization in our minds, the full impact of the film and the themes it dwells on culminates in this closing moment.
Tokyo Story is fundamentally about a family whose members have chosen to pursue happiness in ways that leave little room for the maintenance and sustenance of familial intimacy. It demonstrates how external changes to the landscape, family income and social status can affect the internal emotional condition, affecting the nature of the interactions between individuals. Tokyo Story cuts close to the heart and is powerful in its communication of the intangible value of filial piety.
Often described as one of the greatest films in the history of cinema, this is a must-see for real and wannabe film aficionados. Tokyo Story is screening on Saturday February 2, 2013 at 7:00 PM Eastern, at TIFF Pacific Cinematheque as part of Japanese Divas: Great Actresses of Classic Japanese Cinema.