A simple story simply told, Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo-set tale is widely considered one of the great classics of world cinema. Following an elderly Japanese couple - Shukishi (Chishu Ryu) and his wife Tomi (Chieko Higashiyama) - as they visit their middle class children in the city, Tokyo Story charts the inevitability of change, disappointment and death with a resigned air of mute acceptance. Hardly anything actually happens, and yet it's one of the most emotionally involving dramas ever made.
As a director, Ozu always believed in the simplicity of art. Like a Japanese Haiku poem, Tokyo Story hides great depth beneath its basic structure. The plot is uneventful to say the least: the parents arrive to discover that their grown-up children have no use for their presence. Indeed, the only person who seems genuinely pleased to see them is their daughter-in-law (Setsuko Hara), whose husband died during the war.
"THE PATHOS OF EVERYDAY EXISTENCE"
Shooting in the minimalist style he would become famous for, Ozu sets up each scene with equal simplicity, using a fixed camera that never moves from its starting position as the drama unfolds in front of it. The technique mirrors the story's lack of action. There are no arguments, shouting matches or violent fisticuffs here - just coldly subtle rejections and snubs veiled by intricate social etiquette.
What makes Tokyo Story so great, though, is the way in which Ozu invites us to observe what's occurring beneath the surface of the drama. Sketching the parents' cool yet somehow touching relationship with each other, their disappointment in their offspring's selfishness and their sense of their own ageing, Ozu discovers the pathos of everyday existence. Life for Ozu isn't made up of grand gestures or impassioned speeches, just resigned acceptance that things have a tendency to change for the worse rather than the better.
In Japanese with English subtitles.