Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Tokyo Story

Last night I watched a DVD from the library entitled Tokyo Story. The film was directed by Yasujiro Ozu, was done in black and white, and was set in the post-WW II Japan of about 1953. What I love about Japanese cinema of this time period is how black and white film was used in the portrayal of scenes and settings; an expansive sky filled with very small but numerous clouds, the light of the sun behind them, hands holding Buddhist prayer beads, the glowing face of a beautiful woman, almost as if a sort of halo were around her, and many other subtle effects. What I also like about post-war Japanese film is how the recently ended war many times seemed to loom in the backround of the film, yet would be only vaguely referred to; even if the piece might be set in the medieval period of Japan. There is the sense of recent tragedy that this effect brings, which surfaces subtly in many of these post-war produced films. Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon is an excellent example of this effect; the opening scene of a destroyed temple set perhaps sometime in the 19th century, with its torrential rainstorm hailing down upon it, is used as an example of a destroyed and decimated Japan, both in her structure as well as in her spirit, following the ending of the war.

Tokyo Story is a film from this period, that is essentially a tale concerning the relationships between aging parents, and their children and families. It demonstrates how children move on to their own lives, and how also sometimes some children can treat parents as being burdens to endure, rather than trying to enjoy them for who they are as well as for their knowledge and experience. The children of the parents in the film, all have their own busy lives, and when the parents come to the big city of Tokyo from the small town of Onomichi, they are at first regarded with the respect due to elder parents, but over a fairly short time in their visit, they begin to be treated by the grown children as somewhat of a problem, of course done in a very Japanese, very subtle, yet universally recognizable way. Only Noriko, a daughter-in-law, treats the parents with a kindliness which is genuine and true. Noriko was married to Shoji, who perished durng the war eight years before, and she dutifully still takes care of his memory (another example of the tragedy of the war, and a sense of emptiness or loss, subtly and perhaps to some extent, sub-consciously, placed into a Japanese post-war film).

One of the parents, the mother, dies soon upon returning to Onomichi, and after the funeral ceremony, at dinner, a daughter, Shige, crassly asks for some clothing items of this parent for her own, as "memorial" items. The children all make excuses for their quick returns to Tokyo, all except for the faithful Noriko, who stays an extra day or so. The father tells her, as the mother had already done, that although she was not even a blood relation, that she was better to them than any of their "real" children. Noriko, ever humble, claims that she too is selfish (though she really is not) and flawed. The father tells her, as again had the mother, that her mourning for their son Shoji should come to an end; that it had always pained them to see her unable to move forward and onward from the tragedy of his death. He gives her his sincere blessing to move on with life, along with an old timepiece of the mother's (a symbol that time moves in only one direction). The next scene is the glowing Noriko on the train, with tears in her eyes, holding in her hands the precious timepiece.

This film made me want to reassess my relationship with my own parents, to try to be a more dutiful son, and to try to be more aware of their wishes and how I treat them at times.

I would also really recommend Rashomon, if one is interested in post-war Japanese cinema. It's the story of a crime which takes place in 19th century Japan, as retold by several witnesses, each with a unique perspective which at times conflicts with the others, raising for us the question of, what is the truth?


Blogger willowtree said...

I'd like to see that movie. I dont think Ive ever seen any post-war Japanese movies before. It sounds a little bit like a hindi film called Baghban. According to the movie the word Baghban means Caretaker.
It is a story about parents who have sacrificed everything for their children, and the events that take place upon the retirement of the father. It is a lovely movie. It is even better when you get a copy in which the subtitles are on point! haha

There was a whole lot of distracting overacting by Salman Khan. Other than that, pretty decent.
After I saw it, I too thought about parents and their roles in the lives of their children. I even wrote a little... I dont know what it is, a parable or something, based on the idea behind the movie.
I dont know if there were any hidden symbols or anything like that in it though.
Maybe it is time to watch it again.

6:02 PM  
Blogger Frank said...

I bet they might have it in your local library system. Japanese film, by directors like Ozu and Kurosawa seem to have universal messages and themes, although set in the Japanese context, making them quite interesting. That "Rashomon" by Kurosawa, is fantastic.

Hindi movies it seems take a somewhat different approach; many times more like a fantasy or escape from the real world, which the Indian audience loves, and also makes for interesting, colorful and entertaining cinema. I haven't seen too many Hindi films though (does "The Guru" count?). The deep symbolism, I'd say,is probably to be found more in Japanese or Iranian film, than in the Hindi ones, which seem to be many times some form of colorful love story or theme on family life, although that "Baghban" may possibly have some "hidden" or symbolic themes, it sounds like.

Interestingly, Iranian filmmakers have made some very visually powerful films. I remember seeing a few, of which titles I can't recall now, with some spectacular and sometimes fantastical imagery, many times making the simple views of everyday life look quite amazing. If you get a chance to see a good Iranian made film, take it, you'll not be disappointed.

6:41 PM  
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6:42 PM  
Blogger willowtree said...

No, "The Guru" does not count :p.

Im talking about real Hindi films, subtitles required. I tend to believe that Hindi films loosely mirror the everyday lives of the people. The movies are based on things that they know about, with the exception that everything ends happily, and even if it does not end happily, everyone is still happy for having seen what they could have possibly gone through, but have not.
Some Hindi films are not "Bollywood" at all. Deepa Mehta's films usually tackle heavy issues, the ones considered national crises.
She was able to make Earth:1947 about the turmoil in India during the 1947 partition. I think that one was based on "Cracking India/Ice Candy Man" by Bapsi Sidhwa. She also made an unbelievably controversial film (in India) called Fire, about a lesbian relationship. The burned movie theaters over that one. It actually caused so much ruckus that she was not able to complete filming the third of the trilogy, Water.
Many Hindi films have a lot of focus on the traditions of region.

Im pretty sure that I could get a copy of the Tokyo Story movie, at the library. I dont think my card is current anymore, hehe, I guess I'll have to find out.
Ive actually seen a few Iranian movies, the one I can distinctly remember (or was paying attention to) was very sad.
When I come out of my "break from Iranian things", I'll try to see a film and pay attention to it.

10:51 AM  

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