Frequently featured on the 1st position in lists of Best Movies of all times, Tokyo Story takes its subject, conflict and eventually huge gentle power from the never-ending source: FAMILY. As as I keep repeating, family is art’s most interesting source of conflict.
A couple of elderly parents visit their children in post-war Tokyo. For them, the voyage is a rare event. Once there, they exude modesty and admiration for the lives of their grown up children. But the children are busy, they’re modern people and soon enough the parents become a slight burden. No one’s available to be with them, and as the children realise this, they buy their parents’ a ticket to a seaside resort for a couple of days. There’s a touch of goodness from the widow of one of their sons, dead in the war, interpreted by the wonderful Setsuko Hara.
By choosing an editing style that favours down-time, Yasujiro Ozu clears any intensity from the conflict. But like a cook who slow-boils them veggies, this technique distills the emotions between the family members and present the viewer with the most delicate and unpretentious portrait of human nature.
The parents decide to leave early, sensing that they’re mostly in the way of their kids life. A week later, out of thin air, the mother dies and the children make the voyage themselves, in the opposite direction.
I was more touched by the Late Spring / Early Summer films, probably because of their more explicit themes and conflicts (love, relationships, loneliness).
The film lacks any moral judgment, the parents’ attitude dissolves any grudges that we, the audience, might develop towards their uncaring children.
Roger Ebert’s review of Tokyo Story is a wonderful love letter.