Before viewing, I had heard next to nothing about Tokyo Story except that it’s one of the most highly rated foreign-language films of all time. Now, I have already covered some Studio Ghibli films (Spirited Away (2001) and Princess Mononoke (1997)) under the banner of ‘Japanese’ film on my blog previously. As well as Seven Samurai (1954) and Battle Royale (2000).
So, in world cinema and on my blog, Japanese film is not underrepresented.
But for some reason, I couldn’t help adding Tokyo Story rather than a film from another country. Something about the domesticity and the minimal, mundanity of the film seemed to grab me. As much as it’s all well and good watching the Seven Samurais of this world, there’s nothing like a ‘slice of life’ movie to really get you thinking about your own.
Toyko Story is about a Japenese family in the 1950s, the time when the film was made. It centres around the father, Shukichi and the mother, Tomi who live in Onomichi, Southwest Japan. They have five children: Koichi, their eldest son and Shige, their eldest daughter, both live in Tokyo. Shoji, their second son, died in WWII but they are still close with his widow, Noriko. Their youngest son, Keizo, lives in Osaka while their youngest daughter, Kyoko, lives with them in Onomichi.
Shukichi and Tomi make the trip to Tokyo to visit their eldest children and Noriko. Despite Shukichi and Tomi giving them every benefit of the doubt, it becomes quite apparent that their children feel put out by their visit and don’t appreciate the miles they have travelled to see them. Not in a vicious and nasty way… but they’re just so busy, you know?
Only Noriko, their son’s widow, gives them any attention and it’s her that takes time off work to show them around Tokyo.
And it’s this theme of ‘you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone’ that ties the whole film together.
Shukichi and Tomi don’t seem necessarily put out or miffed at their children for ignoring them. In fact, they are obviously very proud of their children for being so busy and successful and are clearly very sunny-side-up kind of people. But as an audience member, I couldn’t be more annoyed at the way the children are treating their parents.
The style and themes
The style of this film complements the mood of the film. If the camera ever physically moves at any point during the film, then I sure as hec didn’t notice it. The cinematography is often from a lower angle and the framings repeat themselves as we follow the characters through their homes.
We only see the film unfold from precisely placed frames. And though characters are talking to one another, you rarely see their whole faces together in the same frame. They are often facing in all directions and only partially visible. The actors/characters often look directly into the camera as if the audience were a family member they were conversing with. O, the audience is sent three steps back. There is a lot of disconnect in this family.
A cautionary tale
Watching this film today, in the 2010s as opposed to the 1950s, it makes me wonder how shocking or upsetting it would have been for Japanese families at that time. In the present day, it’s a very sad but very common reality that children move away and parents keep getting older. We seem to love to hate our busy lifestyles, thinking it gives us such joy to smash goals and achieve, achieve and achieve. We see friends and family members who live away and say ‘we should do this more often’ and whoops it’s five years letter and you’ve still not seen them since.
It’s Noriko, as a young widow, who understands the preciousness of time. She thought she had all the time in the world with her husband, but unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Noriko knows what it truly means to be lonely and cherishes the time with her in-laws because she knows they won’t be around forever. She gives up her own time to make them comfortable and she’s the only one who truly cares when tragedy hits. It’s only people like Noriko, Shukichi and Tomi that will ever truly be happy, and we’d all do very well to remember why.
Though perhaps the most tragic event in this film, is that the train the parents were due to catch back to Onomichi was LATE. Has such an event ever happened in Japan?! I’ll be scarred for weeks thinking about all the stress and panic it must have caused.
Have you ever seen Tokyo Story? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below!