by Ryland Walker Knight
The everyday banality distances the viewer, at first, in Yasujiro Ozu's 01953 TOKYO STORY but its purity of expression, its contemplative rhythms and its observations culminate in an ending that evokes the best of Anton Chekhov & Andre Dubus: you learn how to live. Were we all so selfless as Setsuko Hara's Norika, we (humans) would, to say it simply, be better. Norika has the highest of standards for herself but she can see virtue in what we viewers, along with Kyoko (Kyoko Kagawa), are inclined to dismiss as selfish in Shige (Haruko Sugimura); but its Shige who cries first, remember. Shukichi (Chishu Ryu) & Tomi (Chieko Higashiyama) are proud of their children in the end despite the Tokyo-bustle pre-occupations that keep Shige and Koichi (So Yamamura) busy because they are successful and there is a time when children outgrow their parents' embrace. However, this purity is at a remove from the audience by virtue of Ozu's static camera, empty frames and deliberate arrhythmia. That we can reach any emotional plateau is remarkable, nigh miraculous, and as such, it's this heart-felt and honest humanity that inspires such claims. The ascethetic framework (& a stark DVD transfer), however, can misdirect an audience into resisting how nimbly the narrative moves. This is a gentle film. And it moves great distances (albeit from one tatami mat to another (the film's opening and closing titles appear over a thatched grid akin to such floorings)) in the blink of an eye. Women cry -- and suddenly -- but it's the howl of a train and the groan of a tugboat that moved me the most as the film closed. So happy to have found this treasure at last: thank you, Dad, it's a great Christmas present. Life may be disappointing but when we can find ourselves this transported-transformed-transcended with the stuff cloudy days (not dreams) are made of, there's a light shining on the water.
01953: 136 minutes: dir. by Yasujiro Ozu: written by Ozu & Kôgo Nodo
[Thanks to Harry Tuttle and Unspoken Cinema for including me in their Contemplative Cinema Blogathon.]