Tokyo Story

The Family Seated Together
The family seated together

Regarded the world over as a masterpiece, Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story makes extensive use of the director’s characteristic unique style.  Inspired by films such as Make Way for Tomorrow, the film examines universal concepts with a unique spin.  A film set in the period after WWII, Ozu’s film looks not at the dramatic but rather, at the everyday happenings in life.  Unconventional camera angles and scene transitions, compounded by Ozu’s unique plot progression serve to create an experience that completely upends western expectations of film, all through the familiar lens of the family unit. Important events are often not shown on screen, only being revealed later through dialogue. For example, the train journeys to and from Tokyo are not depicted. A distinctive camera style is used, in which the camera height is low and almost never moves, creating a slow paced film perfectly juxtaposed with the times after war.

Set in 1950’s post-war Japan, Tokyo Story follows the adventures of the aging couple Shukichi and Tomi Hirayama as they journey from rural Onomichi to metropolitan Tokyo to visit their now adult and semi estranged children. However, unfortunately for Shukichi and Tomi, their now adult children do not have the time for them. Ozu’s  use of the camera to dramatize everyday experiences is the embodiment of his unique style.  By placing the camera at an extremely low angle, Ozu’s “tatami shots” set the viewer’s eye at a point that mirrors that of what would be seen by the natural eye when seated on a tatami mat, rather than using the typical over-the-shoulder shots. Through this clever camera placement, Tokyo Story creates a more intimate experience for the viewer with the characters, much that one feels as if they are a part of the action, not just a bystander.

While one would expect scenes to transition from one to the next seamlessly, this is not the case in Tokyo Story.  In fact, Ozu’s “ellipses” show major gaps in the film.  Rather than using continuity editing , Tokyo Story’s transitions are shots of certain static objects or use direct cuts, rather than fades or dissolves. Most often the static objects would be buildings, where the next indoor scene would take place. All of this contributes to the slow pacing of the film and the indirect progression of scenes expected in western cinema.

By rejecting Hollywood film conventions, Tokyo Story serves as the embodiment of a style free from western influence. Rather than being considered a japanese film, audiences should approach the film as enforcing Ozu’s position as an auteur to examine his ideas about the family. Tokyo Story highlights the relationship between blood relatives, that of a lack of concern, and juxtaposes it with the relationship between the old couple and their devoted, widowed daughter in law.

A cinematic experience that is both comfortingly similar and drastically foreign,  Ozu’s Tokyo Story examines the universal concept of family.   Through his use of “tatami shots,” and “ellipses” Ozu delivers a film focusing on gazes and the deconstruction of the common adage “blood is thicker than water”that is well worth watching.

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