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Tokyo Story

Tokyo Story, 1953

Older couple Shukichi (Chishu Ryu) and Tomi (Chieko Higashiyama) decide to take a trip to visit their adult children in Tokyo. Kiochi (So Yamamura) is a local doctor; Shige (Haruko Sugimura) is a hairdresser. They also pay a visit to their daughter in law, Noriko (Setsuko Hara) whose husband--their son--is missing in action from the war and presumed dead. Aside from Noriko, who takes time to walk around with Shukichi and Tomi and talk to them, the children treat them like an inconvenience. The couple must wrestle with their feelings of alienation toward their children, while still struggling to feel proud of them.

So apparently there is an emerging theme to my list of films here: Japanese dramas that punch you right in the feels.

Yes, yes, I loved Tokyo Story, even if it seemed personally tailored to push on some of my deepest anxieties.

The dynamic that the film captures so well is that of parents who only want to see the best in their children. This grows more strained as the callousness and disregard by their children becomes more and more pronounced. At one point, the children send their parents to a spa. The parents fret over their children sending money and treat the day as a special occasion. But when there are disruptive parties at the spa and they try to return home, their children bluntly tell them that they just sent them to the spa to get them out of the way. In a carefully worded conversation between Shukichi and Tomi, they talk themselves into agreeing that they are very proud of their children. And yet something in the tone is defensive, as if they are having to make an argument against someone who would say otherwise.

As with Ozu's other films, loneliness and abandonment become themes at the forefront. This is most explicit with the character of Noriko. She still keeps her husband's picture in the living room, and a tearful Tomi tells Noriko that she should remarry before she gets too old. There are similar conversations about the couple's daughter, Kyoko (Kyoko Kagawa), who is single and lives with them. But unlike the other films I have seen from Ozu, the notion of loneliness extends beyond an individual. We see the way that the couple has become isolated from their children. Yes, they have each other. But you need more than one other person to feel stable. The ingratitude of the children stings, not the least because the couple does not feel supported by them.

This movie felt very personal to me on a few fronts. When I was younger I had a parent who became ill and was not expected to survive. Thankfully they did, but the years after that were very fraught. I was kind of a mess, as you might imagine. I often carry around a lot of guilt about my behavior as a child, despite being assured by my parents that I was a low-drama kid. I also lost all of my grandparents between the ages of 15 and 22. One of my biggest regrets is not fostering a stronger relationship with them. While I was not neglectful or disrespectful in the manner of the characters in this film, I did not do as much as I now wish I would have to cultivate a relationship with them and make them feel more appreciated. Between this film and Ikiru, all of my "are you doing enough?!?!?!?!?!" buttons have been pushed and then some. I hope that others who watch this film also reflect on their relationship with the older generations, and seize the opportunities for bonding if it is not too late. (And, you know, if those older generation people are worth bonding with).

In any event, this film also has that signature Ozu vibe of incredibly realistic domestic sequences. While as a viewer you can be very critical of the behavior of the adult children, the film does acknowledge their point of view. In one sequence, Shige is upset that her father has become drunk, and recounts that he was often drunk in her childhood. That is the kind of thing that can stick with a person, and I appreciated that it wasn't just presented as the adult children just being awful. Self-absorbed, yes. In perhaps one of the more memorable moments, Kyoko talks with Noriko. Upset, she blurts out "Life is so disappointing, isn't it?" "Yes," answers Noriko, "It is." But she says this with the tone of one who has accepted this aspect of life.

Another excellent Ozu film.