After almost seventy years of smiling, the faces of Mr. and Mrs. Hirayama are adorned with the signature shadows of time’s crescent shaped engraving. A train ride to Tokyo is in order, where they plan to meet up with several of their children, some of whom have families of their own. Tokyo is practically a world away from their home in Onomichi, a sleepy riverside town in the Hiroshima prefecture of Japan. Upon arriving, the two are met by their relatives, whose reactions betray attitudes of muffled inconvenience and snippy annoyance. In the final days of the trip, another of time’s well-worn manoeuvres makes an appearance, subtly conjuring tears at the eyes of those who witness.
Set behind the opening credits for Ozu Yasujirō’s Tokyo Story, stretching from corner to corner in an extreme closeup, is a length of burlap textile. Its fibers are arranged in a grid, whose regularity and square proportions reverberate in the many taught and geometrically composed images of the Japanese domicile. When Ozu’s camera is inside, it’s crowded by its own perspective. Dining rooms resemble puzzle boxes with lines that carve away emptiness, such that sitting seiza seems not only polite, but necessary. Entrance ways on side walls skew so thin that actors who use them seem to blink in and out of recognizable space. When his camera is outside, we are shown great temples, fields, smoke stacks, trains on railways, and tugboats on channels. In general, we are relieved to be there. Tokyo Story dabbles in death without succumbing to morbidity and it touches tragedy without defaulting to cynicism. Its outlook on familial relationships is a rich one; it’s no pauper’s fabric.
- Tokyo Story (Ozu 1953) @ BAM/PFA #JapaneseDivas