An elderly couple travel to Tokyo to visit their children, to find out that they’re all too busy with their own loves to be bothered with them.
Yasujiro Ozu’s masterpiece Tokyo Story is one of the most beautiful and poignant films the world has ever seen. It came out in 1953, during the period Japanese cinema was getting international attention and distribution. Although Akira Kurosawa came to be the face of Japanese cinema in Western culture, and deservedly so, Ozu’s quiet meditation on family dynamics and cultural evolution has proven that he, too, is an important artist in his own right and deserves a place in the pantheon of international auteurs.
Shukishi (Chishu Ryu) and Tomi (Chieko Higashiyama) are excited to see their two adult offspring in Tokyo. It’s been a long time since they’ve seen them and have never traveled to Tokyo. They have five children total: one daughter, Kyoko (Kyôko Kagawa), still at home; another son, Shoji, who died in World War II; and yet another son, Keiso (Shirô Osaka), living in another city. When Shukishi and Tomi finally arrive in Tokyo, they are picked up from the train station by their eldest son, Koichi (Sô Yamamura), and daughter, Shige (Haruko Sugimura). Koichi, a surburban doctor, takes them back to his house where his wife, Fumiko (Kuniko Miyake), and sons await their arrival. Later, their widowed daughter-in-law, Noriko (Setsuko Hara), drops by to visit. All seems to going well, but the next day Koichi unexpectedly has to check on a sick child and cancels the day’s plans. Then Shige, who runs a beauty salon, gets a little busy and tries to find someone else to force her parents on. She calls Noriko, who agrees and takes them sightseeing. As the days pass, Shukishi and Tomi begin to feel like a burden. Their fears are validated when Koichi and Shige decide to send them to an expensive spa for a few days. They come back early from the spa, which annoys Shige, and decide that they have overstayed their welcome. The next day, they head back to their small town, unsure of the next time they will see their children. Unfortunately, an unexpected event causes them to meet again under solemn circumstances.
The beauty and power of Tokyo Story lies in its simplicity in story and technique. The plot is very basic and avoids clichés and formulas. It contains heart and honesty because it doesn’t try to manipulate the audience; it simply shows the characters and their lives without any agenda. Koichi and Shige come across as self-absorbed and indifferent most of the time, but they’re not vilified. In fact, their behavior is defended at one point. Koichi’s sons are spoiled and disrespectful at times, but everyone laughs it off as boys being boys. It’s odd to see that Noriko is more of a caring daughter than Shige is, but the film doesn’t make her out to be a saint.
Ozu is famous for his subdued visual style. The camera rarely moves in his films, and in Tokyo Story, it only tracks in two scenes. The camera acts as an objective observer to the events that unfold, which only adds to the sincerity of the film. Like many Japanese artists of the past, Ozu has a great love of nature and frequently cuts to shots of different parts of nature and simple aspects of everyday life.
Tokyo Story is frequently cited as one of the most influential and important films ever made. A constant placement on “greatest films” lists, it continues to affect audiences over fifty years after its original release. The universality of its themes, well developed characters, and delicate way in which the story unfolds make “Tokyo Story” a must see film.