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DCA Archive

Tokyo Story

Yasujiro Ozu

Much to our delight, the British Film Institute have recently re-released, in new digital restorations, Tokyo Story and Late Autumn, two masterpieces from the legendary Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu. Like much of his work, they both examine the timeless struggles that we all face in life: the cycles of birth and death, the transition from childhood to adulthood, and the tension between tradition and modernity. And Ozu’s particular way of filmmaking (long takes, low camera positions) has certainly never seemed more beautiful.

The film that made Ozu's reputation in the West (it was also a big hit in Japan), Tokyo Story is plotted a little more schematically than most of his masterpieces, but is nonetheless one of his most emotionally piercing films.

An elderly couple leave their rural home in Onomichi to visit their married children in Tokyo. But their son and daughter are too preoccupied with their own domestic affairs to have much time for them (they pack them off to the Atami hot springs to get them out of the way), and it's only the widow of their elder son who is truly hospitable and welcoming. With Ozu's formal strategies now in full play, the film explores the spaces between what's said and what cannot be said, finessing a keen sense of life's disappointments. But the film's emotional truths are underpinned by a real topicality: this is also a sketch of social and moral changes in defeated, post-war Japan.