Ozu doesn't sentimentalise or condemn;
he merely observes human nature with calm and clarity.
- Colin Covert
A film by Yasujiro Ozu
Run time : 136 minutes
Japanese with English sub titles.
16th Dec 2007 ; 5.45 pm
Call 94430 39630
It ennobles the cinema. It says, yes, a movie can help
us make small steps against our imperfections.
- Roger Ebert
Made in 1953 as Japan pulled itself together to face a democratic future after 50 years of aggression and seven years of American occupation, Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story is the supreme masterpiece of one of the cinema's greatest masters.
Those brought up on the energetic diet of American cinema may find it hard to appreciate the quietist art of the great Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu. He has been called the poet of family life, capable of taking the seemingly trivial and making great drama of it. Nothing was too small to be significant.
No story could be simpler. An old couple come to the city to visit their children and grandchildren. Their children are busy, and the old people upset their routines. In a quiet way, without anyone admitting it, the visit goes badly. The parents return home. A few days later, the grandmother dies. Now it is the turn of the children to make a journey.
From these few elements Yasujiro Ozu made one of the greatest films of all time. "Tokyo Story" (1953) lacks sentimental triggers and contrived emotion; it looks away from moments a lesser movie would have exploited. It doesn't want to force our emotions, but to share its understanding. It does this so well that you are near tears in the last 30 minutes. It ennobles the cinema. It says, yes, a movie can help us make small steps against our imperfections.
It does this with characters so universal that we recognize them instantly -- sometimes in the mirror. It was made 50 years ago in Japan, by a man who was born 100 years ago and it is about our families, our natures, our flaws and our clumsy search for love and meaning. It isn't that our lives keep us too busy for our families. It's that we have arranged them to protect us from having to deal with big questions of love, work and death. We escape into truisms, small talk and distractions. Given the opportunity at a family gathering to share our hopes and disappointments, we talk about the weather and watch TV.
Ozu is not only a great director but a great teacher, and after you know his films, a friend. With no other director , you do feel affection for every single shot. "Tokyo Story" opens with the distant putt-putt of a ship's engine, and bittersweet music evokes a radio heard long ago and far away. There are exterior shots of a neighborhood. If we know Ozu, we know the boat will not figure in the plot, that the music will never be used to underline or comment on the emotions, that the neighborhood may be the one where the story takesplace, but it doesn't
matter. Ozu uses "pillow shots" like the pillow words in Japanese poetry, separating his scenes with brief, evocative images from everyday life. He likes trains, clouds, smoke, clothes hanging on a line, empty streets, small architectural details, banners blowing in the wind (he painted most of the banners in his movies himself).
His visual strategy is as simple (therefore as profound) as possible. His camera is not always precisely three feet above the floor (the eye level of a Japanese person seated on a tatami mat), but it usually is. "The reason for the low camera position," the writer Donald Richie explains, "is that it eliminates depth and makes a two-dimensional space
Except for a single panning shot and a short sequence in which the old couple go around
12th Dec 1903 - 12th Dec 1963
"I have formulated my own directing style in my head, proceeding without any unnecessary imitation of others." - Ozu
Ozu was born on December 12, 1903 in
Ozu's work as assistant cameraman involved pure physical labour, lifting and moving equipment at Shochiku's
Days Of Youth (Wakaki Hi, 1929) is Ozu's earliest extant picture, though not especially typical (and preceded by seven others, now lost) as it is set on ski slopes. Stylistically it is rife with close-ups, fade-outs and tracking shots, all of which Ozu was later to leave behind. Three years later came what is generally recognized as Ozu's first major film, I Was Born, But... (Umarete wa Mita Keredo..., 1932). This moving comedy/drama was a great success in
Thirty years into his filmmaking career Ozu was making films which, like Kurosawa's Ikiru (1952), questioned the sense of spending your whole working life behind a desk—something that many of his audience must have been doing.
Ozu's films represent a lifelong study of the Japanese family and the changes that a family unit experiences. He ennobles the humdrum world of the middle-class family and has been regarded as “the most Japanese of all filmmakers”, not just by Western critics, but also by his countrymen