The long-story-short on Yazujiro Ozu’s TOKYO STORY (1953) is, like almost all long-stories-short, inaccurate to the point of missing the point. The tale isn’t one of grown children neglecting their elderly parents (as thumbnail descriptions of the film often erroneously aver) but rather an examination of families struggling — and largely failing — to maintain ties beyond the nostalgic dynamic of parent-child codependence. “To lose your children is hard,” a senior citizen laments midway through TOKYO STORY. “But living with them isn’t easy either.” Disappointment is the key emotion that drives the plot, that of parents who feel their children have fallen short of their true potential and that of adult children who cannot forge a fresh relationship with the people who raised them but with whom they struggle to relate. Filmed during Japan’s reconstruction, less than ten years after the end of World War II (construction cranes dot the landscape as logos for American products creep into the frame, signaling the lingering death of the old empire and the birth of an economically new order that is irrevocably tainted by western influences), TOKYO STORY is one of several Japanese films that attempted to find the pulse of a nation undergoing a radical shift in perception and priority and has long been considered a classic of the New Japanese Cinema, on par with Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru (1952) and Keisuke Kinoshita’s A Japanese Tragedy (1953).
On hand to introduce this morning’s screening of TOKYO STORY at the Chinese Multiplex was TCMFF BFF Illeana Douglas, who likened Ozu’s masterpiece to “a Japanese road movie… but an extremely slow road movie.” Lest any of the festival attendees think she was being dismissive, Illeana went on at length to praise the film’s use of extremely low angles, which give the viewer an impression that the very houses themselves are characters in the family drama, and of Ozu’s nuanced depiction of the struggles of regular people to find their place in a world whose rules and dimensions are being rewritten and of the simple beauty of every day life.