SteelCity99 - wrote on 04/24/18
Japan may be the superlative country for creating timeless masterpieces, which may be a daring and controversial statement that may originate debate. However, Yasujiro Ozu reportedly belongs among the greatest directors of all time, exposing simple and honest ideas about life itself in the purest form possible. Tôkyô Monogatari officially ranks as one of the best films ever made in cinema history. The reasons are as abundant and justifiable as they are commonly accepted. In a time where Eastern culture was inspired by tales regarding honor, bravery, existentialism and a strong Buddhist influence in films (specially since the 50's), Ozu directs a strong contender for the most heartwarming, reflexive, humanist and quietly peaceful drama ever conceived within cinema.
Tôkyô Monogatari deals with a pretty simple plot set in postwar Tokyo, where an old couple decides to take a vacation and visit their children and grandchildren in the city: the Hirayama family. However, they soon find out that their own children have no time for them, seemingly due to their busy and productive lives. Since the parents unintentionally are in the way of the children the whole time, they end up being sent to a health spa in an attempt of getting rid of them. Epiphanic self realizations and haunting consequences torment all of the characters in their own way according to their role within the family and particular actions once that tragedy inevitably ensues.
The humanist vision and unique direction of Ozu has always been admired and this is, perhaps, his most representative and personal classic film. The contrast present between the parent's home and the city is perfectly synchronized with the contrast between their tender, mature and loving personalities and the selfishness, ingratitude, egocentrism and emotional insensitivity of their own family with which they are horribly welcomed. There is no acting in this film, but just characters. The actresses and actors become their own characters to portray and add an incredible dose of credibility and naturalism. From the selfish and uninterested characters to the loving and caring ones, including a compassionate and beautiful widowed daughter in law who smiles with every phrase and statement she makes until she submits herself to the healing and moving power of tears, we are offered a complete and compelling dramatic story that invites to deep reflection, a characteristic that was successfully represented through the performances of the brilliant cast.
The cinematography is as peaceful and harmonic as the pace of the film. Both are slow, but enchanting, and enhance the ironic beauty of life itself. The camera, instead of focusing on "where we are", shows "what is there" and explains the emotions that can be found in both the characters and the environment. It doesn't require a hyperactive movement throughout, but an emphasis on the hypnotic power of locations and landscapes and on facial expressions, as if they were prioritized. Kojun Saitô's lovable work for the musical score is relaxingly respectable, an effort that allowed maximizing the emotions and ideas transmitted through the film including its technical aspects, which is as simple and classically common for its time as the story. The screenplay developed by Yasujiro Ozu and Kôgo Noda is fascinating, not because of its poetic brilliance and simplicity, but because of its effort to create completely human characters and for adding a tremendous power to the overall cinematic feeling of the film, which resorted to situations that, ironically, may appeal to modern audiences in even a more significant way that it did back in the 50's.
At first glance, Tôkyô Monogatari may not seem the great masterpiece it really is. Stereotypes and clichés in modern films, among several other negatively affecting influential factors, have deteriorated not only the classic and decent form of filmmaking and direction that existed in the first decades since cinema was created, but also the very image of cinema itself. Cinema was originated from the use of a camera that documented seconds of real-life events, until the idea of fiction came up, allowing the birth of a genre called drama, as it was an already existent concept since theater and literature were existent arts. The purpose of drama was to depict fictional stories with empathetic characters that, thanks to the unstoppable force and irony of destiny, had to face determined believable situations, some of them which mirrored real life. That was exactly the purpose of Yasujiro Ozu through Tôkyô Monogatari, among other drama artworks that he had already done and would do later, from dramatic comedies like Otana no Miru Ehon - Umarete wa Mita Keredo (1932) to dramas like Ukigusa (1959).
Tôkyô Monogatari naturally deals with common topics such as self-acceptance, family's love and rejection and the possible outcomes of mortality, topics which supposedly prioritized importance are frequently ignored. It is a social criticism set in times of destruction and necessary reconstruction, where the catastrophic consequences of war, politics and the thirst for power caused such a wonderfully intellectual and artistically cultured country to plan a new beginning for itself after a noticeable economical, social and spiritual downfall. The parents unconsciously represent the past and classic lifestyle of Japan, where the simplicity of life predominated and irrevocably included family love without excluding the possible purposes of life, whereas their younger family and children portray the lost hope of a nation submerged in modernism. The roots (that is, origins) of a life style are always homage around the world according to the customs of every country and region, and Tôkyô Monogatari perhaps does the same thing, establishing a connection to the past and the changes and modifications that actuality has forced humanity to go through and assimilate.
Tôkyô Monogatari is a modest, yet gigantic triumph, as well as a landmark in Japanese cinema. The greatest masterpiece of Ozu according to the majority's opinion, including mine, has left a legacy that will be kept for decades to come, just like it has been kept until nowadays. Although it may not exactly be the most accessible film for Western culture, it is undeniably moving and inevitably appealing, like a screaming wake-up-call for modern audiences who have forgotten faith and hope and lost the original vision we as human beings had towards the world when we were kids and, interestingly, people from past decades, where existence seemed to have enough challenges of its own with a fast and modernized constant progress. It works as a drama film, as a morality story, as a reflection on mortality and life purposes, as a family tale, as a heartwarming piece of cinema, and, ultimately, as a Tokyo story.