"Isn't life disappointing?", asks the pouting, disillusioned Kyoko (Kyoko Kagawa). "Yes, nothing but disappointment", says Noriko (Setsuko Hara) with a polite but borderline desperate smile in her face. And in the juxtaposition of that innocuous phrase and Noriko's quiet desperation, the emotional floodgates open, and you understand in a blinding flash why Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu's 1953 classic Tokyo Story remains one of the all-time greatest movies in film history.

     On the surface, it's a deceivingly straight-forward piece of folksy melodrama, about the Hirayamas (Chishu Ryu and Chieko Higashiyama), an aged rural couple who head to Tokyo to visit their grown-up children only to find themselves a burden on their busy city lives - only Noriko, the widow of their son lost in WWII, welcomes their presence. In Mr. Ozu's hands, this becomes an elegant, quietly haunting tale of everyday heartbreak and tragedy, confidently deploying a cinematic style that dates back to the director's beginnings in the silent era limned to its purest form. As repurposed to the contemporary age, Mr. Ozu's static compositional framings and basic shot/reverse shot head-ons gain an austere simplicity that only underlines Tokyo Story's central comment on how things change yet remain the same, framed by the specificities of the Japanese social construct yet essentially universal.

     This "Tokyo story" scripted by the director with his regular collaborator, Kogo Noda, could pretty much take place through the ages and the countries, having been lived by every family who sees its children grow up and flee the nest; the timelessness of its generation gap is only heightened by the timeless quality of the stately, black-and-white Academy-ratio visuals. And it's in that timelessness that resides Mr. Ozu's ability to recognise and bring to the surface genuine love, genuine feeling, genuine emotion, as transmitted through the miraculous alchemy of writing and performance, artistry and technique.  Tokyo Story is a timeless masterpiece.

Cast: Chishu Ryu, Chieko Higashiyama, Setsuko Hara, Haruko Sugimura, So Yamamura, Kuniko Miyake, Kyoko Kagawa, Eijiro Tono, Noburo Nakamura, Shiro Osaka, Hisao Toake
Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Screenplay: Kogo Noda, Mr. Ozu
Cinematography: Yuharu Atsuta  (b&w)
Music: Takanobu Saito
Designer: Tatsuo Hamada
Costumes: Taizo Saito
Editor: Yoshiyasu Hamamura
Producer: Takeshi Yamamoto  (Shochiku Eiga)
Japan, 1953, 136 minutes

Screened: DVD, Lisbon, September 3rd 2013


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