Tokyo Story is nearly sixty years old now, but this black and white, Japanese classic is as relevant today as it was then. Its themes concerning an aging couple who are taken for granted and dismissed by their grown children has a universal truth which is often uncomfortable to watch as we realise that what is happening on screen could easily occur in our own lives - be it as the neglectful offspring, or the ignored parents.
Shukichi and his wife Tomi finally arrive in Tokyo by train where they meet up with their children in turn. As they resti after the long journey, their hosts consider what to feed them and assure themselves that there'll be enough to go round. It's not long before visitors make brief visits around work commitments to see the elders and dutifully drop by to say hello. This is very reminiscent of 21st century life where we often find ourselves juggling obligations. Instead of enjoying the company of Shukich and Tomi, family members seem relived when they hear that ma and pa are being visited by someone else that day, it means that they don't have to bother. It's not that they don't love them, it's that they don't want to put any effort into seeing them as they think they will be content enough.
As they spend more time in Tokyo it becomes more apparent that they are an inconvenience with their children struggling to find time to see them or take them out. The four children settle for the minimum amount of entertaining that they can get away with, always hoping that they won't be lumbered with them, that someone else will take them out and keep them occupied for a bit. The perfect solution comes when they send their parents away to a hotel, convincing themselves that it's in their best interests - it also happens to be cheaper than taking them out and means that a couple of old folk won't be taking up their time.
The spouses eventually reflect that "this place is for the younger generation", you feel as though they aren't just referring to the noisy hotel they find themselves in, instead it's almost a admission of defeat and a sadly profound statement that they now have no place in their children's lives now that they have family and jobs of their own. They've become an old couple roaming between relatives rather than valued members of the family whose stories and wisdom should be shared, enjoyed and respected. It's when we see the two joking together or when "father" comes home blind drunk that we are reminded that this old pair are just as socially capable as the younger generations, they simply never get a chance to show it.
The film progresses at a slow pace, but it never drags. This Yasujiro Ozu directed slice of family life is now considered to be something of a masterpiece and Ozu's trademark style is evident. The camera angles tend to be shot from waist height and it gives the impression that you are in the room with the characters as they talk above you. The stationary camera often seems to be looking through doorways or along passages, it gives the film a voyeuristic feel - as if we're secretly watching on cameras planted around the house. Tokyo Story provides us with an insight into 1950s Japanese domestic life and Ozu plants us right in there with no pretence, it's an incredibly honest way of filming which contrasts with the glamorous Hollywood scene of the time - there's no soft focus here, we see everything warts and all.
This Blu-ray release is a bit of a disappointment, there is regular horizontal banding on the film which looks as though it's been taken from an old VHS copy rather than a clean master copy. The Blu-Ray does look marginally better than the DVD but there's no significant improvement here. It's a shame as there has clearly been some effort made with this release - the inclusion of `Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family' on DVD is a nice bonus, but ultimately the buyers of title are wanting to see Tokyo Story and it would have been nice to say that the Blu-Ray was a worthy `upgrade'. Nobody is expecting this to be crystal clear, but it's obvious from what I've read that previous releases on DVD haven't suffered from the banding which is present here.
The subtitles initially seem a bit difficult to see and the white text sometimes clashes with brighter backgrounds - though my eyes seem to adjust quite quickly. The sound on this Blu-Ray is tinny and at times a bit 'screechy' - but this is to be expected from a film which is sixty years old - it's fair to that it wasn't filmed with high definition and 5.1 surround sound in mind! But as soon as your ears get attuned to the audio (and it only takes a few moments), it's clear that the gentle background hiss and mono audio is atmospheric and quite beautiful. The music itself is kept to minimum - the opening and closing melody is a emotive piece of music which sums up the mood of the film perfectly.
In a nutshell: A 5 star film which gets 4 stars from me as the overall release could have been better. Tokyo Story is a film which resonates long after it has finished and no matter what your age, you will be able to identify with the characters in the film. Some of the closing dialogue offers a sobering bit of philosophy: "As children get older, they drift away from their parents", though this doesn't justify treating them as a burden on your time, I hope I don't make the same mistake.