When you watch movies of Ozu, you learn about tatami(straw floor mat), you know about Noh and Kabuki(native drama forms), you realize the philosophy of non-intrusion and kindness and finally you understand the self-same humanity from a million images of everyday life. You pay attention and respect what is beneath the prosaic and mundane. Ozu unwinds his zen spell on us audience unhurriedly and irreversably like his sagacious camera on a tatami in dry sunlights.
Tokyo Story(1953) could arguably be the most deceptively simple movie that you'd ever watch. Such is the storyline and the familial faces about the living spaces in Japan, you no longer realize that you are shaken out of your lethargy to participate in the deeper discourses on life, death, people, relationships and vicissititudes of time. The concept of action is arrested and film techniques are given a chance to catch up with life and learning.
The movie has an oft-repeated story. In it an old couple visits their kids in Tokyo with a lot of hopes and affection to spend a few days of the autumn of their lives, only to be disappointed by their indifferent offsprings who had their own separate lives to worry about. The son and daughter put them up in noisy spa resort to continue with their busy lives. By this time the parents realize that they are burden and decide to return to Tokyo to their chidren's discomfort. The old woman spends the night at the one room apartment of their dead son's widow(Setsuko Hara) who treats them kindly, while the old man gets drunk with his old friends who in the grip of alcohol confess their disappointments with life and children and changes of time.
Upon return from Tokyo, everyone realizes the estrangement and tries to smooth over as best they can. Mother becomes ill and dies prompting her children to come to the small town where they grew up. The death, memories or the impending loneliness of the old man do not seem to affect anyone. They go back to their lives that never give them respite from themselves, while the old man watches the boats sail on and trains whistle past among the rooftops. The young teacher who witnessed the funeral and family gathering exasperatingly says: "Isn't life disappointing!", and to which Setsuko Hara affirms, "Yes, life is disappointing indeed".
Ozu defies almost all conventional film concepts to bring in the Japanese aesthetic values. He breaks the common narrative pattern with his ellipsis technique, when he prepares the viewer for an impending scene and then skips it to pan you into subsequent scenes that portray the after effect. The attentive viewer is now led into understanding the subtle cues and messages Ozu tries to convey. Once you are into a scene the camera almost never moves and stays at medium shot distance. When action at home is shown, he uses 360 degree instead of the conventional 180 to draw the camera on the abstract nature of the space around the characters. In one shot its interesting to watch him cover the Tokyo house of the old man's son following his wife cleaning the house in anticipation of the guests.
Ozu dedramatises and employs experiential narrative and distances himself emotionally. His compositions would have images that even though complete in themselves, blend and stays in the continuum of film experience. All theses seemingly facile scenes, frames, images and montage will grow on you to have a cumulative and deeper emotional impact to help you be perceptive and see beyond the ordinary.
Towards the end of the film, there is a scene when in the morning after the funeral, Setsuko Hara finds the Old man watching the sunrise. He tells her that it is a glorious morning today. She says nothing and it seemed, in that very moment they knew exactly what was in each other's mind.
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