Tokyo everywhere?

Yasujiro Ozu and Kôgo Noda, the writers of "Tokyo story"

Nobody disputes that "Tokyo story" is a masterpiece yet a quick run through the internet brings in surprising reasons.

For example a Guardian reviewer writes “The film condemns no one”. Hmmm ... during the screening I had a feeling of a relentless, brutal and furious accusation constantly pouring from the screen. Granted, all done in a restrained, elegant and measured way, which just increased the power of this quiet yet terrifying howl over our smallness, stupidity and wasted chances. So, it seems that contrary to the quoted line, the film condemns everybody. Even the gentle visitors are guilty. Guilty of being too complacent to their children, of playing the game, of allowing the quiet evil of coldness and indifference to spread with its small, banal, everyday steps.

“There are too many people in Tokyo” means all dwellers are bad or are bad because there are too many of them. But there are not “them”. It’s “us” that we should beware. Tokyo is everywhere. Incidentally, I buckle over giving one of my beloved cities such a bad rap. But we all know what Ozu means: in “Tokyo story” it’s not important that it happens in Tokyo, it is important that it is “a story” which happens everywhere.

Almost every writing about this film brings in the aesthetics, the framing, the camera level and such as the key elements. Surely there are there, but that’s just the skin deep formal “clothing”, which feels totally secondary. What jumps out the strongest are the characters, the timings as well as the overall structure of the story. (That's why the reported remake of the film makes perfect sense.)

“Tokyo story” is terrifying because of the gentleness of most of its characters. Their smiles and under-spoken reactions telegraph hidden cries of their souls. The situations extend just a bit longer than needed but not too long to call attention to their slight elongation. It is a teasing approach. The story arc leads from the banal through the tragic to the everyday. This hurts.

Regardless of why “The Tokyo Story” works, it is also fun to poke “behind the scenes”. The reported 43 bottles of sake consumed over the 103 days of writing of the script intrigue. Were they drinking to get stimulated? Perhaps they were just numbing themselves since the story opens access to a very painful spiritual human nerve, the nerve almost impossible to handle while being sober.

While the above could make a good story, it isn’t extraordinary in its excess but rather in its restrain. In a wonderful clip Shizu Noda, recalling the writing practices of Yasujiro Ozu and Kôgo Noda, says it usually took them 100 bottles of sake to write a script. Perhaps sensing the importance of this particular story they decided to stay sober on this one. Well sort of sober.

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