Today I had the chance of visiting an old friend. His name is Yasujiro Ozu. Ozu is of course one of Japan's all time best directors and his film Tokyo Story is one of his best.1 Ozu's work in general and Tokyo Story in particular is not for everyone, less of all for modern Westerners who are so used to the grit, violence and 2 second scrambled cut scenes of todays cinema. Instead, stepping into the world of Ozu is to be transported into another time, another attitude, another culture and state of mind. It is the mind of the East, where everything has deep meaning and symbolism and where everything moves at glacial speed.
Tokyo Story is a simple story involving simple people, filmed however by a not so simple master director.2 It is a story about the trivialities of life in which done by a lesser man (a Western director) would have tanked horribly. Missing from Tokyo Story are exaggerated acting scenes, no dramatic close ups, virtually no action, but simply people lost in thought, conversations, polite chatter. Watching Tokyo Story is like taking a break from Western cinema on the whole which is like a wild roller coaster ride and instead going to the beach, relaxing in the warm rays of the sun, listening to the gentle rumble of the waves.
The scene cuts to a lonely back alley somewhere in Tokyo. The camera films on for a few seconds. In the background some anonymous person scurries across the scene into some lonely doorway while he frantically fans himself and disappears. That is Ozu. That is Tokyo Story.
. The acclamations for Ozu and his work are world wide and continue up to this day. Critics and cinema scholars praise him continually, see for example, Paul Schrader, Transcendental Style in Film (De Capo Press, 1988); Donald Richie, Ozu: His Life and Films (University of California Press, 1977); David Desser, Ozu's Tokyo Story (Cambridge University, 1997).
. Note the way Ozu holds the camera dead center even after the actors leave the scene for a number of seconds, it is truly haunting. Note his affinity for having some object at the forefront of the camera while people in the far background are seen moving intently. Ozu's originality is that he is not toying with with wild camera angles (Welles) or vivid and exaggerating impressionistic movements (Laughton) but rather simple elegant and graceful pose, steady camera shots and long takes.