Tokyo Story (Tokyo Monogatari) [DVD]
Director : Yasujiro Ozu
Screenplay : Kôgo Noda & Yasujiro Ozu
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1953
Stars : Chishu Ryu (Shukishi Hirayama), Chieko Higashiyama (Tomi Hirayama), Setsuko Hara (Noriko), Haruko Sugimura (Shige Kaneko), Sô Yamamura (Same per), Kuniko Miyake (Fumiko), Kyôko Kagawa (Kyoko), Eijirô Tono (Sanpei Numata), Nobuo Nakamura (Kurazo Kaneko), Shirô Osaka (Osako, Shiro), Hisao Toake (Osamu Hattori)
Tokyo Story (Tokyo Monogatari) is Japanese filmmaker’s Yasujiro Ozu’s best-known film (it ranked in Sight & Sound’s influential 10 greatest films ever made list in 1992 and 2002), although thematically it is almost exactly like his other 53 films. Ozu was the filmmaker poet of the evolving Japanese family; every one of his films was in some way about family life and, more specifically, how it was coming apart at the seams. Interestingly, Ozu himself never married or had children, but his films all centered around the daily activities of parents and their offspring and the often widening gaps between them.
Tokyo Story is a simple and sad tale of the gulf between an old couple and their adult children. As the film opens, the parents, Shukishi (Chishu Ryu) and Tomi (Chieko Higashiyama), who live in a small rural village, are preparing to visit their grown children, all of whom reside in the city of Tokyo. They are filled with great expectations, and, as we learn, it is has been a long time since they have seen their children or their grandchildren. However, once they arrive in Tokyo, the two-week visit is marked not by happiness and union, but rather by repeatedly dashed expectations, guilty feelings, and a lack of genuine communication, all of which is barely papered over by politeness and familial routine. One of the recurring motifs of Tokyo Story is how the family members do not openly voice their feelings, but rather mask them beneath a façade of compliance and cheerfulness.
Of all their children, the only one who is truly kind to Shukishi and Tomi is, ironically, their widowed daughter-in-law, Noriko (Setsuko Hara). Even though she is not a blood relative, she is the only one who appears to be genuinely glad to see her parents-in-law, and she treats them with respect and dignity. Their other children, particularly a son who is a local doctor and a daughter who runs a beauty parlor, are moderately successful in life, but have little reverence for their parents. Ozu shows this again and again by depicting how the visit is an inconvenience in the children’s routine lives. At one point, they send Shukishi and Tomi off to a spa just outside of Tokyo; on the surface, they tell themselves that their parents will be happier there than in the bustling heart of Tokyo, but we know as well as they do that it is simply a ploy to get rid of them, at least for a while.
The simplicity of the narrative in Tokyo Story—which, like so many of Ozu’s films, rejoices in the intricacies of everyday banality—is well matched by Ozu’s aesthetically minimalist style. There is only one point in the entire film during which the camera moves; otherwise, Ozu keeps it completely stationary, relying on his careful compositions and his actors to keep the story moving. This is a potentially dangerous aesthetic, as in the hands of a lesser director it would result in a static and dull film. However, in Ozu’s hands, Tokyo Story constantly bursts with life and meaning, despite the fact that very little happens in the conventional narrative sense. Those weaned on a cinema of spectacle and melodrama will likely find Tokyo Story slow and brooding, but those who can appreciate the importance of detail will find much to absorb, particularly in repeated viewings.
|Tokyo Story Special Edition Criterion Collection Two-Disc DVD Set|
|Audio||Japanese Dolby 1.0 Monaural|
|Supplements|| Audio commentary by film scholar David Desser|
Original theatrical trailer
I Lived, But … two-hour documentary
Talking With Ozu 40-minute documentary
New essay by film scholar David Bordwell
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection / Home Vision Entertainment|
|Release Date||October 28, 2003|
|Tokyo Story is presented in a high-definition transfer taken from a new 35mm positive print and was further restored with the MTI Digital Restoration System. The result is by far the best presentation this film has enjoyed on home video, although its age and the relatively low quality of the original film stock is clear. The image is somewhat soft, which is a result of the original cinematography and film stock used (one must remember that Japanese cinema in the early 1950s was in a relatively primitive state given the country’s devastation in World War II). The digital restoration has removed the majority of visual blemishes, although some still remain that were likely impossible to remove without distorting the image itself.|
|The original monaural soundtrack is a bit rough, which is explained in the liner notes: “due to the deterioration of the existing audio elements, a pristine restoration could not be achieved.” What has been done digitally has resulted in a vast improvement over previous home video releases, though. The soundtrack is still tinny and features audible hiss from time to time, but that is to be expected given the film’s age.|
|When Criterion released Ozu’s Good Morning on DVD a few years back, it was in a bare-bones edition. Such is not the case with Tokyo Story, which features a fine array of intriguing supplements to give the film historical context. First up is a screen-specific audio commentary by film scholar David Desser, an expert on Ozu who edited Ozu’s Tokyo Story, a volume of writings about the film. Desser is well spoken and articulate, and his academic tone fits well with this film’s stature. He has a great deal to impart about Ozu’s style and meaning, as well as plenty of fascinating background information about the film’s production and the history of Japanese cinema. The second disc in this two-disc set features two documentaries. The first, made in 1983, is a two-hour affair chronicling the entirety of Ozu’s long and storied career. Interviews include Ozu’s former assistant Shohei Imamura (director of The Pornographers) and Ozu expert Donald Richie, who was largely responsible for getting Ozu noticed in the U.S. by programming his films in the early 1970s. The second documentary, Talking With Ozu, was made in 1993. Running 40 minutes in length, it is composed of a series of interviews with filmmakers who were deeply influenced by Ozu’s work, including Stanley Kwan, Aki Kaurismaki, Claire Denis, Lindsay Anderson, Paul Schrader, Wim Winders, and Hou Hsiao-hsien.|
Copyright ©2003 James Kendrick