Yasujiro Ozu (director)
15 June 2020 (released)
13 June 2020
Sensibly depicted, director Yasujiro Ozu’s widely acclaimed TOKYO STORY is much more than just a domestic drama set in post-war Japan. More precisely, it skilfully dissects the fragile relations between young and old and the consequences that derive from this generation gap – thus turning this into a timeless story.
Loosely based on the American movie MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW (1937), Ozu’s 1953 version, in collaboration with screenwriter Koga Noda (it took him 103 days to pen the script), very much comes up with a work that stands its own ground in more ways than just one.
Tomi and Shukichi Hirayama (Chieko Higashiyama and Chishu Ryhu respectively) are an old retired couple. They live in the port town of Onomichi together with their youngest daughter Kyoko (Kyoko Kagawa) who works as a primary-school teacher. In addition to Kyoko, the Hirayama’s have older daughter, Shige (Haruko Sugimura) who runs a hairdressing salon and is married to Kurazo Kaneko (Nobuo Nakamura), son Koichi (So Yamamura) – a doctor who runs a small clinic and is married to Fumiko (Kuniko Miyake), and their widowed daughter-in-law, Noriko (Setsuko Hara) – the wife of their son Shoji (missing and presumed dead during the Pacific War). Then there’s the couple’s youngest son Keizo (Shiro Osaka) who works for a small company. With the exception of Keizo (who lives and works in Osaka) their other children live and work in far-away Tokyo where the Hirayama’s come for a visit after a long and exhausting train journey. Although the extended family are outwardly happy to see their parents it soon becomes evident that Mum and Dad are more of a hindrance then a welcome interruption because they are all busy with their own lives – in particular Koichi with his clinic and Shige with her salon. Koichi and Fumiko’s two little boys Minoru and Isamu turn out to be a mighty nuisance too. Surprisingly it’s their widowed daughter-in-law Norika who, despite holding a busy office job, makes time to take Tomi and Shukichi on a sight-seeing trip through central Tokyo – a ‘modern’ and hectic place which seems worlds apart from the tranquillity of Onomichi. Coming to realise that they simply don’t have time to entertain their parents, both Koichi and his sister Shige fork out 300 Yen for a hot spring spa in Atami, which they hope will be beneficial for their parent’s health. The real reason of course is that by doing so they can shove their parents conveniently out of the way whilst pretending to care.
Unfortunately the hotel in Atami turns out to be too noisy for the old couple and they return to Tokyo prematurely, much to the chagrin of Shige who, precisely on that very evening, has made arrangements to entertain business colleagues in her place. Realising that they are in the way, Shukichi and Tomi decide to spend the night separately in different places: Tomi will stay with Noriko in her tiny place (cue for an emotional conversation) whilst Shukichi turns up at the place of an old friend he hasn’t seen in ages. The men hit a local noodle-bar where they get drunk on Sake wine. When Shukichi and his friend return to Shige’s place in a drunken stupor she is angry and accuses her father of having returned to his alcoholic ways of yonder. After a quiet conversation during which the old couple have come to realise just how big the generation gap has become and how busy their grown-up children are, they decide it’s best to return to Onomichi. When they are seen off at the train station by their children, Tomi remarks that it has been nice for her to have seen everyone again “just in case something should happen”. Indeed, it does! During their long train journey back home Tomi suffers a second dizzy spell which prevents the couple seeing their son Keizo in Osaka. Shortly after they arrive back home Tomi slips into a coma and a worried Kyoko sends telegrams to her siblings in Tokyo, urging them to rush to Onomichi. Only Keizo doesn’t receive the telegram in time because he’s been out of the house on a business trip. Tomi dies without having regained consciousness and as preparations for her Buddhist funeral are made, Keizo finally arrives at the doorstep – full of regret for having been too late. After the funeral the blame game begins and Kyoko in particular accuses her siblings of being selfish and uncaring and for returning to Tokyo despite the fact that father Shukichi is now completely lonely… to which Noriko remarks that this is the way things are in this world. After a long and emotional conversation with his widowed daughter-in-law, Shukichi confesses to Noriko that during all that time she cared more for him and Tomi than any of their own children and urges her to forget about her dead husband who went missing eight years ago. She should find a new husband before it’s too late and she grows too old. Shukichi then gives her Tomi’s old watch as a memento. Looking out of the window from her classroom, Kyoko sees a train going by. Inside the train is Noriko, back on her way to Tokyo and contemplating the passing of time.
At 136 minutes running time, the dialogue-heavy TOKYO STORY certainly demands the viewers attention though it’s made easy thanks to the believable performances of all the cast. That said, it's not always easy to decipher white subtitles against a b/w movie (BFI, please take note)!
As a special bonus, this Blu-ray release contains a second feature film with a similar theme: BROTHERS AND SISTERS OF THE TODA FAMILY (1941) was also directed by Ozu and concerns the wealthy Toda family who have come together to celebrate their father’s 69th birthday with a commemorative photo-shoot. When the patriarch suffers a fatal heart attack soon after, it transpires that he had acted as a guarantor for a company which has since gone bankrupt. Now his offspring is not only burdened with looking after their mother and her youngest daughter Setsuko but they are forced to sell their late father’s properties and antiques in order to pay off the massive debts… and soon they quarrel over where and with whom mother and Setsuko should stay…
In addition, there’s ‘Introduction to Tokyo Story’ by Asian-cinema expert Tony Rayns, the 40-min tribute ‘Talking with Ozu’, a fully illustrated booklet (first pressing only), plus the 1948 short film ‘Furnival and Son’ about a recently demobbed serviceman in post-war Sheffield.