Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Tokyo Story (DVD)

In the six films that Setsuko Hara and Chishu Ryu made together under the auspices of Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu, starting with the classic Late Spring and culminating in the heartbreaking Tokyo Story, the interplay between Hara's smiles and Ryu's sighs carried more complex emotion than could ever be verbalized. True to Ozu's subtle variations on fixed themes, the actors' father-daughter relationship rarely changed, yet their signature expressions remained deeply ambiguous, capable of simultaneously suggesting grief, compassion, hardship, and resolve. But above all, Hara's smile and Ryu's sigh are a touching show of good faith and the genuine pleasure they take in each other's company–which, of course, makes their response to life's disappointments all the more poignant. In Tokyo Story, just released in a crisp and thoughtfully supplemented two-disc DVD, Hara and Ryu are only alone in one scene, in the cathartic final minutes, but they're responsible for the exquisitely orchestrated payoff to every moment that precedes it. A grand expansion on typical Ozu concerns, such as the breakdown of the family and the ever-widening generation gap, the film sends the elder Ryu and his wife Chieko Higashiyama on a stressful journey from the southern port town of Onomichi to the hustle and bustle of post-war Tokyo. Though their age and fragile health suggest that this will be their last such adventure, Ryu and Higashiyama receive an indifferent welcome from their two children (Haruko Sugimura and Nobuo Nakamura), who are too wrapped up with their own careers and families to offer much hospitality. Almost as soon as they arrive, the elders are rudely shuffled off to an inexpensive seaside resort, where Higashiyama is struck by a dizzy spell that portends her demise. Back in Tokyo, their only friendly reception comes from daughter-in-law Hara, who has lived alone in a ramshackle apartment since their son was killed in the war eight years earlier. Though moved beyond measure by her devotion, Ryu and Higashiyama openly encourage Hara to remarry rather than settle permanently into the role of lonely widow. The question of whether people like Hara should stay close to traditional, multigenerational family units or strike out on their own runs through much of Ozu's work, and it's never easy for the characters to sort out. In Tokyo Story, the question draws Hara and her aging in-laws into achingly candid moments that reveal the powerful generosity of spirit that exists among them, especially when contrasted with the callousness of Ryu and Higashiyama's blood relations. The insightful DVD commentary track by Ozu scholar David Desser calls attention to the unique compositional elements that contribute to the quiet intensity of Ozu's films, including the famous "tatami-mat" camera angles, the graphic signifiers of time passing, and the lovely transitional shots of nature and interiors. The second disc contains a pair of documentaries: the two-hour-plus I Lived, But…, a dryly comprehensive 1983 career overview, and 1993's Talking With Ozu, a shorter and far more inspiring tribute that spotlights seven world-class directors (Paul Schrader, Claire Denis, Wim Wenders, and Aki Kaurismäki among them) who were influenced by his work. Speaking to an Ozu still, they talk less about his stylistic markers than about the humbling emotional impact of his films. Says Kaurismäki, ruefully, "I've made 11 lousy films, and it's all your fault."


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