Movie Review by Almiro Jorge
Starring: Chishu Ryu, Chieko Higashiyama, Setsuko Hara, SO Yamamura
Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Never has human nature been portrayed with such subtlety.
Tomi (Chieko Higashiyama) and Sukichi (Chishu Ryu) set out from their little village to visit their grown up children in the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, leaving the youngest daughter at home. The reception is encouraging upon their arrival, as all the children and children-in-law gather, but as TOKYO STORY progresses we see that the offspring are too busy to spare time for their visiting parents. They are sent to a health spa instead, where Tomi begins to feel ill. Upon this turn of events, they decide to return to their rural home. Before the story is over, the children are called upon one more time, which proves to be an ultimate test of their character.
From this simple story, Ozu creates in the audience an intense emotion of compassion and awe, not through Hollywood artificial sentimentality, but by delving into our understanding of humanness. The characterisation is flawless and sometimes you wonder if this isn’t reality television. Every utterance seems to be timed to perfection, without being contrived.
The entire film is shot with a motionless camera apart from two tracking shots that create a beautiful sense of loneliness, and yet peacefulness, which appear in quick succession an hour into the film. Each frame is perfectly centred and portrays awesome composition, sometimes depicting a subtle foreground. Throughout the film, Tomi and Sukichi discuss their disappointment with restraint, but the true meaning of their words is felt in the their actions. Showing this with a still camera is immensely more difficult than with a moving camera, thus making this a true work of art.
Ozu said “skill at facial expression by an actor is not enough; the important thing is character, to catch the humanness.” All the way through Ozu shows exactly what he meant by these words. Even with an extreme long shot of the grandmother spending time with her grandson in the open field, the breath-taking power of expression in the actions is powerful.
This film is monumental in expressing human emotion naturally, making it as great today as it was when it was released for the first time.