The Film (5/5)
Yosujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story frequently tops the lists of the greatest films ever made. I am not here to dispute that claim, but here to back that up. Ozu's 1950 masterpiece about the effect of generational divide on parents and their adult offspring is one of the most beautiful, yet simply shot, and heart-wrenchingly effectively films ever committed to film. An effectiveness and a beauty that holds up beautifully 60 years after the films initial release.
The film follows elderly couple Shukishi and Tomi as they leave their small town in the Japanese provinces to visit their children in bustling Tokyo. It is a visit they have been wanting to make for quite some time, and are quite excited to see how their adult children are fairing in Japan's largest city. Upon arrival, however, it becomes immediately apparent that the lives of their children have become too busy, and self-absorbed to deal with their visiting parents. Their daughter Shige has become a successful beautician, obsessed with the bottom line, and will not spend time, nor money on her parents. Koichi, is a local doctor that is much to busy to take the parents out on the town. The only child that was able to care for them during their stay was not even their own, but their daughter in law Noriko, whose husband had died 8 years prior in World War II. After coming to the realization of their children's changing lives they leave Tokyo, only to have Tomi fall ill, and die. The children then come together at the funeral to mourn their deceased Mother, before going back to their lives.
Ozu from his work that I've seen wasn't a filmmaker of stories, he was a filmmaker of characters. He would craft these characters, put them in front of the camera, and show them for all their strengths, and weaknesses off to the world. He would do this, primarily by placing his camera at floor level, and allowing the events of the film to happen with the viewer as a passive participant in the events occurring before us. The film is given a leisurely pace allowing us spend more time in this world with the characters getting to know them and their various quirks.
While Tokyo Story ends in tragedy, it certainly doesn't play out with stereotypical dramatic narrative sensibilities. It is a film built less on one over arching narrative, and more on a series of interconnected vignettes. By the end of these we have gotten to know the characters, there motivations, but we have not gone through any sense of change like a typical film narrative would. The characters who are caring still care at the end, but the self-absorption still lingers in those that were self-absorbed to begin with, this has not changed, and might never changed. It is this realistic approach to characterization coupled with his minimalist style as a director that has always endeared Ozu to myself as a director and has kept me returning to not only Tokyo Story, but to many of his films in general throughout the years.
It has been 10 years since the DVD release of Tokyo Story by Criterion, and we are now many years into the Blu-ray format, and Criterion have now seen fit to release Ozu's masterpiece on Blu for a whole new generation to absorb.
Criterion have presented Tokyo Story in a quite pleasing 1:33:1 AVC encoded MPEG-4 transfer. The transfer offers excellent detail that is vastly improved over the DVD image. We also get strong contrast and a healthy organic grain structure over the film.
Criterion has presented the film with a Japanese LPCM 1.0 Mono track. The track is similarly excellent with dialogue coming through nice and clearly. There is some minor hiss on the track, but nothing overly distracting.
Criterion has put together an excellent slate of extras for their release of Tokyo Story. We get a 2 hour documentary on the life of Ozu called I Lived But…, this is accompanied by a 46 minute extra entitled Chishu Ryu and Shochiku’s Ofuna Studio. This is an archival documentary on the actor who would appear in many of Ozu’s work, and the studio he is associated with. We also get a commentary track by Ozu expert David Desser, a 40 minute documentary entitled Talking with Ozu, the films trailer, and a booklet of liner notes.
Tokyo Story may very well be Ozu’s masterpiece. The film frequently finds itself on the top of many best of all time film lists, and justifiably so. The A/V restoration and extras courtesy of Criterion make this disc, of course, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.