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Tokyo Story

Ozu’s quiet masterpiece about generational strife.

DIRECTED BY YASUJIRO OZU

Early in Yasujirō Ozu’s Tokyo Story, a sulky child reads a passage from his English textbook about how winter has passed and spring has come to take its place. That could be a précis of Ozu’s body of work, which is preoccupied with the uneasy relationships between parents and children, and the social and technological waves that separate them. Tokyo Story—a movie so meditative that a shot of a train racing past the camera comes as a shock—might be the most critically beloved of Ozu’s elliptical, unhurried masterpieces. This has a lot to do with the film’s poignant depiction of an elder generation that finds itself aging out of the modern world without so much as a helping hand to guide it.

Chishû Ryû and Chieko Higashiyama star as Shukishi and Tomi, an elderly couple who travel to Tokyo to visit their adult children. From the moment they arrive, they’re treated not as respected elders, but as unwanted guests. The pair are shuttled back and forth by their own offspring, who passive-aggressively dole out second-rate meals and make vague promises of trips into the city that never materialize. Only their widowed daughter-in-law Noriko (Setsuko Hara) is kind, treating them like proper family until illness strikes. 

In the hands of a less forgiving artist, Tokyo Story would be a grueling film—a nasty story about the pathological negligence of modern youth, who view their parents as humble origins to discard like old skin. But Ozu’s delicate touch emphasizes the quiet moments of humanity that come out of this painful situation. As thematically similar as Ozu’s films are, it’s the details that set them apart, like the longing look Tomi gives her ungrateful grandson in the moment she gets alone with him, or the hurt in Ryû’s voice when he admits, as graciously as ever but with a new edge of cynicism, that they’ve seen Tokyo, and it isn’t for them. 

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