Tokyo Story is one of those films that always comes up in “greatest films ever made” polls and probably always will, yet ask even regular film fans and half have never heard of it never mind it’s genius of a director Yasujiro Ozu. This is a sad case for a film held in such high esteem in critic circles yet it’s a trend that will probably continue long after even DVD’s have been superseded by the next form of technology. This release is something special, not just because of the high quality of the film but the whole package on offer (and also on offer in the rest of the BFI Ozu series) is extremely desirable. Firstly though we’ll examine the film in question.
Tokyo Story is a Japanese drama about the relationships between parents and their children and how time affects these. Describing it as a soap opera would almost seem like blasphemy but many of scenarios covered in the film could be taken out of a Japanese version of a domestic drama. Two elderly parents visit their grown up children who all now live in the bustling and fast paced Tokyo (very different from their simple life in the south of Japan.) The film concerns itself with the different emotional paths that each of their children has gone down and how this effects their treatment of the parents as each child takes it in turn to look after them during their stay.
The emotional power of this film has been well documented yet it’s surprising how much of a punch it still packs close to 60 years after it was released. The second half of the film in particular is packed full of real raw emotion made all the more heartbreaking by the clear attempt of the characters to keep the traditional Japanese reserve during some of the most emotional events that can happen in life. Setsuko Hara gives one of her best performances as the daughter- in- law who has more time for the parents than the actual blood relatives, even though the son she married was killed in the war. In Mark Cousins’ recent documentary The Story of Film: An Odyssey, he described it as “perhaps the greatest movie ever made”. I don’t agree with him with it standing above all other films but its quality is extremely high and it most definitely has a podium spot in the list of greatest films ever made even if it isn’t the top spot.
This release (and all in the Ozu collection for that matter) contains an Ozu rarity film, often exploring similar stories to the main act. In this release we get the reasonable Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family. It’s nowhere near as good as Tokyo Story but is an extremely interesting watch as it’s possible to see the germination of ideas and shots eventually used to greater effect in the later film. It’s also the only way of getting to see this film in question so is a must for completists.
Though Tokyo Story has already been released, it has never before looked so clear and pristine with the restoration of the print being sublime. This release also spoils us in that it offers us the Blu-ray disc as well as DVD for those lucky enough to own a Blu-Ray player. There are also improved subtitles (which is a relief as a recent film purchase had terrible “hard of hearing” subtitles only which is infuriating after a while) and the option of either High Definition or Standard Definition presentations. It also comes with a small booklet with writings and essays on the film (which seem to be in every DVD I purchase at the moment) and it’s always rewarding to read more about the film you’re watching, especially when the essay in question is nice straight from the archives of the BFI vault.
This release is the perfect entrance into the world of Japanese cinema if new to it and though the pacing of the main film here can be a complete culture shock for those used to lightening paced multiplex franchise films. Tokyo Story is a delicate but beautiful piece of art and one of those films where giving that little more in attention means an overall cinematic experience of the highest calibre and this release is easily the best way possible to experience it.