Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tokyo Story

I'm not sure what caused there to be so many noteworthy Japanese directors in the 50s and 60s, but Yasujiro Ozu is another one to add to the list. His style is much more restrained than others he might be grouped with from the period, but I'd say he's certainly in the same class of using film to tell powerful human stories. The film is about an elderly couple leaving their village to visit a few of their adult children in Tokyo by train, including the widow of their son who was killed in World War II. She's actually the kindest of the people they visit, with their eldest son and daughter too preoccupied with work to spend much time with them, and their grandchildren not terribly interested in the ways of senior citizens. The husband meets up with some old drinking buddies, and the wife tells the daughter in law how much she respects her for putting up with her son when he was alive and asking her to remarry. Eventually they return home, though the story doesn't end there.

It's been described as a very calm film, though a less euphemistic way to describe it would be slow. There's some inventiveness in the outdoor scenes, but almost every single indoor shot is unmoving, from a position near the floor, watching the scene unfold. It doesn't use long takes exactly, but it's still a very static method of filming something that's not terribly energetic to begin with. I can see people being driven nuts by the effect of seeing a whole movie this way, but I thought it fit the mood of the story, with everybody being nice to each other on the surface but rarely engaging any deeper than stiff formalities and politeness. And while I found myself not terribly invested for most of the film, by the time things really started happening I realized I cared after all. The film is perhaps most effective in the way it portrays the actual events of life. There's no guy with a camera making our world look exciting and dynamic, and sometimes things happen before you even realize what's going on. In that way it's a very effective story, even if it's not the most exciting thing to watch.

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