1953, Movies

Tôkyô monogatari (1953, Yasujirô Ozu)

Some critics consider this simple drama to be the best movie ever made. I don’t really understand that, as I don’t really believe that there is a “Greatest Movie of All Time.” I know there are movies I’ve watched that have felt “near perfect” to me but I’m not sure too many of them would hold up to additional viewings or if I would feel the same way later on in life. Moreover, for me, historical context is a huge component to greatness and I’m not sure there are too many imitators of Ozu out there compared to, say, Hitchcock. (I’m not saying for a second that Hitchcock was a better filmmaker than Ozu, I have no idea how I feel about that.) Anyway…

Though this was inspired by an American film -which I have never seen – it’s hard for me to imagine a western film of this vintage of similar restraint. This film wasn’t released in the West initially apparently because it was “too Japanese” and that’s so hard to understand given how universal the theme is of this movie, of the new generation straying from the old, with modernity helping to cause this rift. The idea that this film was somehow “too Japanese” seems entirely grounded in prejudice. Anyway…

With one notable exception, this is a subtle, deliberately paced film about the disconnect between adult children and their parents, after most of those children have moved away. It mostly handles this stuff quite well, and the acting is extremely restrained and understated compared to a lot of contemporary Japanese films. (That could be because it’s set in modern times…) One reason this film is so highly regarded is because it’s a simple story told well at a time when not too many films were made like this, and this well.

There is one moment when characters speak the actual conflict at the heart of the film, and I found it quite weak in comparison to the rest of the film. But I know that this was an incredibly common device at the time, and it’s not that much common now. It’s so common it’s hard to really nitpick it.

Anyway, I completely understand why it’s considered a classic and I think it’s one of the best films of its year. And you’re not likely to find a better film about this particular theme. But I do not believe for a second that it is the greatest film of all time.


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