Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Parent's Just Don't Understand

Tokyo Story(1953)
Directed by Yasujiro Ozu

Minimalist, family drama concerning an aging couple taking their first trip to Tokyo to visit their eldest children. On the most obvious level its about an old couple whose selfish children dint spend enough time with them, so they wind up, staying in their rooms and shuffled around like parcel from relative to relative, and then when theres no more relatives to a spa near the beach.Yasujiro Ozu doesn't judge though or at least judges fairly, the kids aren't just bad, the parents are imperfect as well, though they may be the cutest old couple in movie history.In one scene while drunk the father confesses that he was disillusioned in Tokyo because he discovered his son wasn't a high ranking hospital doctor, but a simple neighborhood one, another man laments that his son is only a chief assistant and not a plant manager at the factory where he works. The children are raised to be as industrious and loyal as possible, both fathers lost sons in the war.
When the eldest son has to cancel their family outing to go care for a patient, the parents seem pleased "a good doctor is a busy doctor", but the grandchildren throw a tantrum, suggesting a pattern of resentment to continue.
At another point, the daughter complains that her father used to drink, and worry her mother coming home at all hours, he does just this at her house, she hates drunkards she says.
"Our children never live up to our expectations." True enough, on a universal level, but theres also the encouragement to achieve to meet those expectations which cause the children to be too busy for their parents and too busy for their own children.
The mother and father occupy a slow moving still life of a world, while Tokyo is a bustling city of constant movement.
How can traditional culture, integrate into modern life?
The camera only moves once, and is otherwise always static, the placement is always low to the ground, the characters all speak directly to the camera, like intimate family.
Theres also some subtle symbolism, like ::SPOILER:: While the mother lies ill, and the children are on their way, Ozu cuts to two ships passing each other, one heading into harbor the other out, then he cuts to a moth flapping around a light bulb caught in a lamp shade. ::SPOILER OVER::
Its a quiet film, soft and diffuse in its emotions, the daughter in law Noriko, in one of the films final moments protests that she is not as selfless as she appears, she barely thinks of their son, sometimes for days on end.
Maybe her kindness to them is as much guilt influenced as anything else.
Notice how she refuses to believe the other children are selfish, "they all have their own lives to take care of".
Ozu pushes our sympathies to the old, but he doesn't pass judgement, he spreads the blame around, until it becomes flat and ingrained into the fabric of the culture the characters inhabit. His simple style belies his emotional and cultural density.
A film at this pace wont be for everyone but its rewarding and tragic in a non-dramatic natural way.
I don't think its one of the 10 best films ever made, but its definitely worth seeing to see a truly unique director with a fully developed film sensibility all his own.

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