on 24 March 2015
Warning: This review contains several spoilers
Rightly regarded as one of the finest movies ever made, this 1953 film of Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu is about Shukichi (Chishû Ryû) and his wife, Tomi (Chiyeko Higashiyama), an elderly couple living in a small town in Southern Japan, who we are told are about 70, but to our eyes look more to be closer to 80. They decide to visit their two eldest children, who live in Tokyo: Koichi (Sô Yamamura), whom Shukichi and Tomi believed to be a prominent city doctor, but is actually a harried local practitioner and Shige (Haruko Shugimura), who is a beautician. Neither of them has too much time for their parents. Koichi is too busy with work, and his young, rowdy children openly disdain their grandparents, whom they have never met before. Shige, the eldest daughter, is considerably worse, as she continually voices her disapproval with her parents and scolds her husband for attempting to treat them with nice gestures (Shugimura plays her character's meanness with relish). The elderly couple has also a younger daughter, Kyoko (Kyoko Kagawa) who still lives with them and works as a schoolteacher in their hometown. Kyoko resents their elder siblings' aloofness towards their parents. A fourth son, Keizo, appears only towards the end of the movie, seemingly also indifferent to the fate of his parents.
At the end, their children's indifference prompts the elderly couple to return early to their hometown, but in their trip back Tomi gets ill and dies soon after reaching home.
Clearly the elder children had some unresolved resentment towards their parents: we don't know exactly the reason for it, though Shukichi's alcoholism when he was younger is mentioned several times in the movie.
Only their daughter in law Noriko (the wonderful Setsuko Hara, a regular in many Ozu movies), the widow of their fallen son during World War II, treats them with kindness and attention while they are in Tokyo. In the movie's climatic, tear inducing scene, Noriko initially protests to Shukichi that she is not such a nice person, and that she is really selfish. And we come to understand what she means by this: as sweet and humane as she is, Noriko is also seeking closure to her husband's death in the war, and with her attention and niceties she is desperately looking for her parents in-laws approval: when he is happy to give her that in the final scene, encouraging her to forget his son and find a new husband, she breaks down with tears in one of the most moving scenes in the history of cinema.
on 15 November 2013
Ozu Yasujirô was one of the greatest film directors and after decades of obscurity outside Japan it is cause for celebration that at last BFI are doing him proud by releasing all 36 of his surviving films on both DVD and Blu-ray. The way the films are being released is also to be applauded. The earliest films have been offered in box sets, the Student Comedies and the Gangster Films making up two desirable items, while the late post-war masterpieces are offered in duel releases, the Blu-ray versions as supplements to the DVDs containing one `main' feature each coupled with one of his earlier sound films from the 30s/40s. In this way we get to see rare films which we ordinarily might pass over and realize that they are every bit as good as the main features they support.
Ozu's greatness is evidenced by a staggeringly high level of consistency throughout his output from his early silents to his final austere masterworks. None of his films are revered more than Tokyo Story and its release here is as good as it's ever likely to be. A fire destroyed the original negative and only second-rate copies stay in existence - hence the poor quality compared with other Ozu of this period. Still, the b/w images are crisp and the sound sharp. Not having a Blu-ray player I can't comment on the first disc, but the DVD is certainly very good. The support feature is The Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family which has been chosen by BFI because it has the same theme of generation conflict and people being spurned within their own families. In Tokyo Story the grandparents are pushed from pillar to post, none of their unloving children wanting to take care of them. In Toda Family it is the grandmother and the unmarried daughter who get the treatment. The quality of the original transfer of Toda Family, alas, isn't top notch. There's a lot of surface noise, especially when reels are changed with volume drop outs and surface scratching. Even though BFI have obviously done the best they can with the original source the picture quality is blurry at best. That said it is still watchable and we can see that it's a wonderful film which in its own way is as good as Tokyo Story, in fact providing a very thought-provoking contrast. The earlier film reflects the optimism of pre-Pearl Harbor Japan when the war was still going their way, while the later masterpiece is pregnant with the air of defeat and post-war melancholy. BFI have released the 2 discs with a decent booklet carrying a useful article by Joan Mellen, a reaction to Tokyo Story by NFT programmer John Gillet, full cast details and a brief biography of Ozu by Tony Rayns. I have one slight caveat concerning the complete lack of extras. Tokyo Story consistently appears in experts' Top 10s and for a film of this stature surely a commentary (by someone informed about Ozu and Japanese culture) is in order. Nevertheless, this issue is strongly recommended - essential viewing in fact.
Before I turn to the films in more detail, as a long-term resident in Japan I'd like to offer a few insights into what makes Ozu special. He has been called `the most Japanese' of the great directors and of the `big three' I'd say this is true though Mizoguchi Kenji also has a strong claim. But where Mizoguchi's focus lies on `high' Japanese culture (folk tales, Kabuki theater, Nôh drama, etc) Ozu's subject is everyday family life. His films reflect culture and attitudes that are unique to Japan which foreigners (I'm thinking of myself when I first arrived here 20 years ago) find opaque and difficult to comprehend. There is no doubt that the family is the central unit of Japanese society and Ozu's films are full of the feeling of maintaining `wa' (harmony) between family members and friends. Society here is anything but straightforward. Nothing is said or done directly (for example, in the Japanese language there are no words for `yes' or `no' and opinion-giving is frowned upon) for fear of causing offence and it is the upholding of an agreeable `tatamae' (surface) which is the oil of Japanese social discourse. For this reason Ozu's films are full of (seemingly) mundane conversations about everyday things - the weather, basic greetings, conversation about superficial subjects and statements of the obvious. Family occasions and ceremonies assume central importance with funerals, weddings and commemoration rituals taking up so much of the narrative focus even if (through typical Ozu narrative ellipsis) they might not be shown.
Japanese people generally avoid direct statement of emotions and foreigners not used to the country might find this odd and cold, but beneath the (for foreigners) bland surface harmony there is an ocean of deep emotion which is evidenced only obliquely, subtly and with great restraint. It is this feeling that lies at the heart of Ozu's universe. For those with the equipment to register it (Japanese people and those foreigners who understand their mentality) his films are extraordinarily moving. For those without, even if the technical achievements can still be grasped, the films may appear to be about nothing at all. This is the barrier preventing many from appreciating Ozu.
International producers were scared to release films which seemed only to appeal to insular Japanese tastes. In the 1950s when both Ozu and Mizoguchi were arguably at their height it was perhaps their misfortune to fall under the shadow of Kurosawa Akira, their younger `rival' who propelled Japanese cinema onto the world stage in 1950 by triumphing at Cannes with Rashomon. This was the first Japanese film most Americans and Europeans had ever seen and audiences of the time can be forgiven for assuming that Kurosawa's cinema was emblematic of Japanese culture as a whole, but looked at objectively we can see that influences on Kurosawa (ranging from Shakespeare to Dostoyevsky and from John Ford to Carl Theodor Dreyer) were fundamentally western. In fact his films have never sat easily with some Japanese people because of their bold metaphysical speculation where images and script are always aiming to `make a statement'. It's important to realize that this is fundamentally a western aesthetic and that a number of people in Japan accused Kurosawa (some still do) of intellectual snobbery and arrogance. The fact that after he left Toho studio in 1965 he had difficulty finding funds, ending up going to Russia to make Dersu Uzala and then making Kagemusha, Dreams and Ran with foreign money, shows how much he was ill-trusted in his home country.
Contrast Kurosawa with Ozu. Ozu was a life-long Shochiku company `salaryman', making only 3 of his 53 films away from that studio. From the time of The Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family onwards he was considered a model of reliability in that he made shômin geki (domestic dramas) which made pots of money for Shochiku who were happy to let him use their best actors and technicians. Foreigners might see Ozu as an art house name, a director who made odd films of little interest to a wider audience. Actually, he was hugely popular in Japan, capturing great commercial success when he was alive. The artists that made up the Ozu family who always worked with him (writers Fushimi Akira, Ikeda Tadao and Noda Kôgo; cameramen Yuharu Atsuta and Mohara Hideo; composers Itô Senji and Saitô Kojun; actors Hara Setsuko, Iida Choko, Mitsui Koji, Miyake Kuniko, Sugimura Haruko, Ryû Chishû, Saburi Shin and others) all owe their careers to him and stay deeply loved by Japanese people to this day. Unlike Mizoguchi, Ozu showed indifference to whether he was accepted (or even distributed) overseas and was content to make films about his favorite subjects, adopting reactionary techniques which seemed to contradict the norm at the time, but consequently now seem so modern with his achievements surely set to last. Ozu's famous `minimalist' technique is rendered through his suppression of usual dramatic effect by the heavy usage of narrative ellipse, a camera that almost never moves, cutaway so-called `pillow shots' of buildings or nature which act as continuity links, precise `square' framing of images with a low camera looking up at characters (an aesthetic reflecting the interior design of Japanese houses and the screens and tatami straw mats which surround lives which take place mainly on the floor), and a tendency to shoot actors' faces full-on rather than using the over-the-shoulder, action-reaction approach of traditional Hollywood cinema. This puts the audience squarely in the film itself, a feeling alien to those weaned on the western norm.
The world of Ozu wasn't so different from the world of his Japanese audiences when his films were first released and the attendant themes involved (family conflict, social transition, a search for selflessness which is seldom found, the growing up process) reverberate strongly even in today's society in Japan. His films are simple, dedicated and reflect on the deepest of emotions in everyday life without resorting to intellectual bombast or camera trickery. Ozu's aesthetic is pure, subtle, refined and it is in this indirect appeal to our emotions that he shows his innate Japanese-ness. I have already said that Japanese people are not known for showing their emotions directly, but that does not mean they are not emotional. An Ozu film is a hugely emotional experience which is achieved as it were out of nothing. The biggest compliment you can give an actor, a writer or a director is where the mechanics of their craft disappear, and in an Ozu film everything seems effortless and completely natural. One would never know Ozu had prepared each scene meticulously at the script stage, had every camera set-up firmly in his head in advance and went on to demand absolute obedience to his complex preparations from everyone while shooting on set.
In the 50s when Europe was about to be hit by a French New Wave of vibrant self-reflexive film-making, the reactionary Ozu was going in the opposite direction, crafting out exquisite family dramas where ticks and tropes of style don't exist. We are moved in a profound and quietly devastating manner which is really quite unique to him, though echoes of his style are to be found today in the films of Hou Hsiao Hsien and Kore-eda Hirokazu. In fact in a world where the films of Theo Angelopoulos, Abbas Kiarostami and Béla Tarr (other masters of the narrative ellipse who are often accused of obscurity) have found sympathetic audiences around the world perhaps the climate is now right for Ozu to be recognized everywhere as the master he really was.
BROTHERS AND SISTERS OF THE TODA FAMILY (Todake no kyôdai)
(Japan, 1941, 100 minutes, b/w, Japanese language - English subtitles, Original aspect ratio 1.33:1)
This was a landmark film for Ozu. His 38th feature, it was his first box office hit and together with the following hugely popular There was a Father (Chichi Ariki) (1942) it cemented the trust that Shochiku studio had in him following his return from fighting in China, paving the way for an extraordinarily fertile post-war period. Ozu wrote the story with his regular collaborator Ikeda Tadao, but this was the first time cinematographer Yuharu Atsuta and actors Saburi Shin and Takamine Mieko worked with him. All would be Ozu regulars from this film onwards.
The film charts the disintegration of the rich Toda family introduced at the beginning by a family photograph session taking place in their imposing back garden to celebrate the birthday of Mrs. Toda (Katsuragi Ayako). She and her husband Shintaro (Fujino Hideo) have five grown up children, two sons and three daughters. It takes time for the film to introduce these characters, and at the beginning it is only the second unmarried son, Shojiro (Saburi Shin) who stands out because of his bad manner. His tardiness for the photo and his immediate disappearance to go fishing would appear to mark him out as a bad egg, but actually in typical Ozu fashion he undergoes a redemption and turns out to be the only offspring/sibling worthy of the name. The evening of the photo session, the patriarch of the family has a heart attack and in a trademark ellipse we cut straight from sibling reaction to the otsuya (the ceremony performed on the eve of the funeral) shown with a camera shot of an array of the guests' bowler hats on a tatami floor, the ceremony taking place in the next room. Shojiro's tardiness is again emphasized. The siblings gather later to digest the news that their father has died leaving massive debts that must be paid by selling off family property and artifacts. This leaves the widowed matriarch and the youngest unmarried daughter, Setsuko (Takamine Mieko) in a state of penury and totally reliant on the charity of the older married siblings.
Ozu demonstrates the cold selfishness of the second generation over the events of the next year. With Shojiro working in China, at first the two ladies live with the eldest son, Shinichiro (Saito Tatsuo) and his self-obsessed wife Kazuko (Miyake Kumiko) who uses them as servants, getting rid of them when she receives guests and ordering them to go shopping for her. Unable to stand the humiliation, the two victims try their luck with the eldest sister Chizuru (Yoshikawa Mitsuko) who is even worse than Kazuko. A terrible snob, she forbids Setsuko to get a job for fear of embarrassing the family and attacks her own mother for conniving with her truant-playing son. The downward spiral reaches rock bottom when the two `exiles' visit the second sister, Ayako (Tsubouchi Yoshiko). In Japanese culture it is rude to ask for anything. You have to wait to be asked by the other person who hopefully is sensitive to your need. So when the pair tell Ayako they plan to move back into the dilapidated old family home the sister is supposed to recognize her responsibility and offer them her house. Instead, in crass violation of basic Japanese courtesy she seizes the chance to get rid of them by supporting their proposal.
Ozu's treatment of the story is typically simple and direct. There are no arguments, no histrionics, just quiet defiance and the spirit of `gaman' (toleration) shown by the victims. And yet their plight is rendered so terribly moving through subtle means - Setsuko complaining to her friend Tokiko (Kuwano Kayoko) in very mild terms, Mrs. Toda's resigned tolerance of Chizuru's selfish bullying of her, and in simple cutaways to the picture of the dead husband on the wall presiding over events and the caged bird symbolizing their owners' caged existence. The sadness of the film is leavened by the happy conclusion, Shojiro returning from China for the father's ishuki (first year death anniversary) to tick off his siblings. He sends them all packing and agrees to look after his mother and Setsuko by taking them back to China with him. He even agrees to an arranged marriage with Setsuko's dull friend Tokiko. The caged bird also gets to join in the fun. The idea of a Japanese family escaping to a country against which they had been fighting an aggressive war for over a decade might raise a few eye-brows in today's western audiences, but the film's concluding lightness and satirical touch is entirely typical of Ozu's pre-war style. As Tokyo Story reflects, things in Japan were about to take an altogether darker turn.
TOKYO STORY (Tôkyô Monogatari)
(Japan, 1953, 136 minutes, b/w, Japanese language - English subtitles, Original aspect ratio 1.33:1)
With so many glowing reviews and articles on the net celebrating this glorious film, it is difficult for me to know what else I could possibly add. It is one of my favorites and indeed it's difficult to imagine a more perfect film. As always with Ozu the subject is family, specifically the relationships between parents and children and the generation conflict that rages between them. This conflict is on one level entirely natural, but in his post-war films there is a second level of enforced melancholy imposed by Japan's defeat in World War II.
The film opens on a quiet coastal town scene (a place called Onomichi in southwest Japan) with images of transience and impending change - boats move in the harbor, a train is seen and a whistle is heard. Watch carefully here as the images are echoed right at the end giving the film a miraculous sense of balance. We cut to an old couple, Shukichi and Tomi Hirayama (the wonderful Ryû Chishû and the no-less perfect Higashiyama Chieko) who are packing for an impending trip. The film's `drama', if it can be called that, revolves around their trip to Osaka and Tokyo to visit their four grown-up children, leaving the fifth unmarried youngest daughter Kyôko (Kagawa Kyôko) behind. Following the pattern of Toda Family they visit their offspring in descending order of age and find that each one of them is so involved in their own lives that they have no time to treat their parents properly. The oldest son Koichi (Yamamura So) is a pediatrician who with his wife spoil their two children rotten and fail to acknowledge their responsibilities. Feeling like intruders, the old couple move on to the eldest daughter, Shige (Sugimura Haruko). Shige runs a hairdressing salon and is reluctant to give over space and time to the couple. She and Koichi decide to get rid of the old couple, splitting the cost and booking them into a noisy inn at the seaside where they spend a very uncomfortable night - the scene where they are disturbed in bed by the noise with the camera simply pointing at their slippers outside their door is heart-breaking.
The next morning Tomi complains of a slight pain in her back. That's all we need in an Ozu film to know that tragedy is not far away. They return to Tokyo and don't know where to go. Both Koichi and Shige have shown little signs of welcome and they bide their time in Ueno Park (a place known in Japan as a place where derelicts hang out). The couple decide to split up, Tomi imposing on Noriko (Hara Setsuko), the widowed wife of their son Shoji who was killed in the war, and Shukichi going drinking with two old mates. These two scenes are very interesting, the first dwelling on Japan's loss in the war, the sacrifices Noriko has had to make and the feeling that she must stop dwelling on the past and think to the future by searching out a new husband. The second depicts the disappointment of the old generation in the lack of ambition of the new. Again, the transformation in Japanese society is subtly dealt with by the acknowledgment that children can never grow up to satisfy their parents enough. A very funny drunk scene (you would never guess Ryû Chishû is playing a character 20 years older than his real life age) where he and his friend crash in on Shige is followed by the next morning's brief farewell scene at Tokyo station. Ozu inserts one of his astonishing ellipses which omits the train ride, shows the couple briefly in their youngest son Keizo's (Osaka Shirô) apartment with a brief reference to Tomi's sickness on the train, and the next thing we know they are home in Onomichi and the siblings are making preparations to visit Tomi who is now critically ill.
The film's pulsing heart lies in the absolutely staggering performance of Hara Setsuko as Noriko (this film is part three of the so-called `Noriko Trilogy', the other two being Late Spring and Early Summer where Hara plays two other - unconnected - characters of the same name). She is the only one who displays love and consideration to her parents-in-law as she takes them sight-seeing around Tokyo and puts up Tomi, her dark dingy apartment demonstrating that though she has suffered greatly she gives much more to Tomi than any of her richer siblings in-law. In a sequence which says everything about the heart-breaking subtlety of Ozu's style, when everyone convenes in Onomichi it turns out that Noriko hasn't brought her mofuku (funeral kimono) with her. She has come only thinking her mother-in-law will live. Shige however arrives with her mofuku at the ready and after Tomi passes away she demands to take Tomi's kimono and obi (the kimono's belt) in a very cold fashion. One lady has come to Onomichi thinking about life and what she can do to help her mother-in-law while the other lady has come only thinking about death and how she can make something out of it.
And yet, the beauty of the film lies in Ozu's even-handed treatment of the characters. Even the worst characters are shown to be sympathetic as shown in the wonderful final dialog when Kyôko is leaving Noriko for the last time. She complains bitterly about how cold and selfish her siblings are, but the worldly wise Noriko advises that their behavior is simply normal. In the straightened condition of post-war Japan people really only have time to think about themselves and it is right to prioritize the concerns of their own offspring over their parents. As Noriko says, that is the nature of life. And really if we look closely at the behavior of the older siblings, both Koichi and Shige are trapped by their circumstances. Koichi can't take care of his parents because he has patients to tend while as despicable as Shige's behavior appears to be (especially to western eyes) when she breaks down into tears on hearing her mother is about to die, she is completely redeemed (we must remember that Sugimura Haruko was deeply beloved of Japanese audiences). Ozu is even careful not to make the old people completely `good'. There are references to Shukichi's past heavy drinking and his comment that he regrets not having been kinder to his wife while she was alive. The film is full of very real tangible emotion, but it never overflows into sentimental soap as the same story would in a Hollywood version. The ending of this film is the most moving ending in all of cinema and it's achieved with the most delicate restraint.
Tokyo Story is always singled out for huge praise, but this is because it was the only one of Ozu's films to be released overseas during this period. There are two reasons for this. The first is that it's slightly more melodramatic (and therefore `accessible') than usual for Ozu, while the second is that the story of an old couple being spurned by the younger generation is something western audiences can easily relate to, the film being less `Japanese' than other masterpieces from this period like Late Spring and Early Summer which carry cultural references which might seem opaque to foreigners. Lovers of Ozu will know though that a number of his films are indeed on the same exalted level as Tokyo Story. To ask which one is Ozu's best is rather like asking which Beethoven symphony (or should I say `Bach cantata'?) is the best. The question is redundant - all his films demand to be seen.
Ozu’s 1953 masterpiece remains one of the most uncompromising and painfully honest depictions of the vagaries of family life to have ever reached the big screen. Tokyo Story’s simple and straightforward approach to storytelling, backed up by the director’s (and cinematographer Yuharu Atsuta’s) gift for creating unfussy look and feel (static camera, simple close-ups, etc), sets the film apart from the vast majority of other 'realist’ films, reinforcing the film’s clarity of message and, consequently, its emotive power. And, although Tokyo Story’s post-war Japanese setting and its depiction of changing social conventions and pretensions are, of course, rooted in Ozu’s national heritage, his film’s themes of morality and humanity have universal relevance.
Indeed, the unfailingly rose-tinted ('mustn’t grumble’) attitude of parents, Chishu Ryu’s father Shukichi Hirayama and his wife Chieko Higashiyama’s Tomi as they visit their various offspring (now living busy, self-centred lives in bustling Tokyo) has a distinctly British feel to me! The director soon shows us, however, that the elderly couple represent a 'generation past’ ('But the two of you haven’t changed at all’) as their tourist tour of the city reveals the latter’s inexorable modernisation and their grandchildren display even more explicit traits of disrespect than do their children. And, although stay-at-home (and youngest) daughter, Kyoko Kagawa’s Kyoko, does still show love and deference for her parents, older siblings Haruko Sugimura’s beauty therapist Shige and So Yamamura’s doctor, Koichi, are constantly on the look-out for ways to 'offload’ (and, even, disown) their visitors, whilst it is non-blood relative, Setsuko Hara’s daughter-in-law, Noriko (whose husband has been killed in the war) who shows most consideration for the elderly couple.
Indeed, the film is perhaps at its most touching during the scenes between Tomi and daughter-in-law, Noriko (for whose depiction both actresses give stand-out performances), and even though, as it becomes clear that Tomi’s health is failing, the director does provide one or two glimmers of potential ‘regret for things past’ from her offspring, unfeeling mercenariness eventually wins out and the film’s starkly realistic take on parenting is maintained through to Shukichi’s final resigned sigh.
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.