Tokyo Story, directed by the legendary Yasujiro Ozu, is a 1953 film which examines the condition of Japanese culture as it existed during a pivotal moment in the country’s history. The story is deceptively simple. It revolves around a family living in Tokyo, as the grandparents travel from their home in a more rural area of Japan to come and visit them. Through this minimalist structure, in two hours we are shown the nuances of generational gaps, the shifting importance of the career, the alienation of the elderly, the apathy of children towards their parents, and so much more.
Through this minimalist structure, in two hours we are shown the nuances of generational gaps, the shifting importance of the career, the alienation of the elderly, the apathy of children towards their parents, and so much more.
Tokyo Story is incredibly important because it is considered the greatest film by one of the greatest directors to ever live, during a period which is considered one of the greatest in the history of cinema. The 1950s-1960s is widely regarded as ‘the golden age of Japanese cinema’, birthing titans of the directing world like Akira Kurosawa, Masaki Kobayashi, Hiroshi Teshigahara and of course, Yasujiro Ozu. Without these people, we literally wouldn’t have Star Wars, or a plethora of other films most would consider foundational to modern culture.
Ozu was the first of this group of directors to begin making films, directing as early as the late 1920s, so his approach to filmmaking is one of his most interesting attributes to me. It is important to keep in mind that at this point in time there was no history of cinema to look back on and take inspiration from. It was a very new medium, and sound was only just beginning to come into use. Therefore, many of the ‘rules’ people follow in films nowadays simply did not exist. One example of this is the 180-degree rule for framing conversations, which Ozu breaks countless times in all his films. In Tokyo Story, a conversation is often shot by having one character look directly into the camera saying their lines, then cutting to another character doing the same, rather than them looking off-screen like in most modern films. The result of all of this is a highly unique viewing experience that feels like no other film, almost appearing as if someone who had no concept of what a film was were tasked with making one.
Tokyo Story is incredibly important because it is considered the greatest film by one of the greatest directors to ever live, during a period which is considered one of the greatest in the history of cinema.
Another aspect of what makes Tokyo Story so great is the sheer mastery of the composition of scenes. Critics have analysed how meticulously crafted Ozu’s shots are for decades, but when looking at a film like Tokyo Story, every single shot has the artistic intention of a painting behind it. The care that went into composing for the rule of thirds, leading lines, and lighting is phenomenal. The film frequently cuts away to quiet images of water shimmering in the distance, or intricate details of the Japanese architecture in which the story takes place, making for a contemplative tone that is, again, rarely seen in other films. This also perfectly accents the emotional beats of the story which, as you will know if you’ve seen the ending, can be crushing. There’s something about those final shots of the quiet village, the boats drifting down the river, the people going about their everyday lives, all as the music swells to a climax, that will forever be etched into my memory.