“Isn’t life disappointing?”
Films, as all art, live in the realm of being completely subjective and are only interpreted based on the position of the viewer and the creator. The creator may make a film with a specified viewpoint, but due to where the viewer is in their life may decide to view it in a completely different light – I use the classic example (and yes I’m using the word classic loosely there) of Barney’s understanding of The Karate Kid.
Tokyo Story is a film about a retired married couple, Shukichi (Chishu Ryu) and Tomi Hirayama (Chieko Higashiyama), who decide to take a trip to Tokyo to spend some time with their children and grandchildren. However, they soon come to realize that their family has little time to give them as their lives have all become swept up in the hustle and bustle of city life and always busy with work.
What I notice with this film, and something that is present in many films like this, is that it finds it very hard to show fault. It’s unfortunate that life has changed (or so these films like to say) such that the youth of today find it hard to make time for family, but at the same time what is life (and all those things that come with it) if you can’t find time to spend with your family? With the built in Japanese reserve Shukichi and Tomi find a very calm way of retreating from the situation without making their children truly see their disappointment, but at the same time in there is a level of understanding. They understand that it’s hard for anyone at that stage in their life to be able to turn down an opportunity to work and provide for their family, so they move along with little quarrel.
That is what makes this film spectacular though. Its reserved condemnation allows for the children to paint themselves into this reprehensible corner that at the same time never lets them know they’re actually doing that. You can just see them walking around the world of this film with paint being tracked all over the place and they’re never checking the bottom of their shoes.
The aforementioned is highlighted even further when later in the film the family encounters a tragedy. At that point the children show their true colours and there’s not much one can do. We’re treated to a particularly wondrous scene between Noriko (Setsuko Hara) and Kyoko (Kyoko Kagawa) where the youngest child, and closest to her parents, asks why these children have turned out like this and why they feel they can’t share their time as we all wish children should with their parents, with which Noriko’s only response is to give us a truth of the world that is almost unavoidable, which is that life is full of disappointments.
Like Kurosawa’s masterpiece, Ikiru, Yasujiro Ozu attempts to shine a light on the odd sliding scale we place work and family on as we must do one in order to keep the other intact. However, how can we claim to truly have a family if we spend all our time working, what value is that family if we never see them. I’d even go so far as to say that Tokyo Story has a much better assertion of that idea than Kurosawa ever tried to accomplish, even though Ikiru is more about finding meaning in your life than a family dynamic.