Tokyo Story

Film Criticism, Movies

Yasujirô Ozu’s Tokyo Story presents the first appearance on the Greatest Films of All Time list of a second movie by a director who is already represented by an earlier film, in this case Ozu’s 1949 Late Spring. In a way, the fact that a director has more than one film on the list shouldn’t matter. The films should stand on their own regardless. On the other hand, the appearance of a second film begs the question if the list would be more diverse and stronger if a film by another director could be added instead. This issue will come up again shortly when Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai comes around.

Made only four years after Late Spring, Tokyo Story features many of the same actors in a similar low key family drama. Not only does Ozu use the same actors, but at least two of them have the same character names. Perhaps if Tokyo Story and Late Spring had been substantially different, this issue of two films by the same director wouldn’t be so much on my mind.

The story follows an elderly couple (Chishû Ryû and Chieko Higashiyama) as they travel to Tokyo to visit their children. Unfortunately, their children are too busy with their own lives to spend any substantial time with their parents. The children keep passing their parents around and even send them off to a spa to keep them occupied. Only Noriko (Setsuko Hara), the wife of their deceased son is kind and generous with her time.

Tokyo Story almost feels like a prequel to Late Spring as the film ends in a similar place where Late Spring begins: a widower father living with a devoted daughter.

In my review of Late Spring, I expressed some hesitation regarding my opinion of the film. While watching it, I found it to be slow and not particularly engaging; however, I found myself moved by the understated tale. Tokyo Spring is engaging from the start, has a more involved plot, more locations, and a touch of humor, making it the superior film.

Although I rated Late Spring fairly high (7th at the time I watched it), I am a bit torn about keeping it that high on the list. Watching Tokyo Story reminded me of the aspects of Late Spring that gave me pause and raises the concern about how to address multiple films by the same director. Given the similarities between Late Spring and Tokyo Story and the superiority of the latter, I might be inclined to argue removing Late Spring from the list. I’ve been slowly putting together a list of movies that I think might be worthy of inclusion and I think the final stage of this project might be to watch some of those and make arguments why some films currently on the list should be replaced by others. Of course, at the rate I’m going, I won’t be done watching the films on the BFI list for another year and my thinking could very well change.

So, for now, I’m going to add Tokyo Story 5th and drop Late Spring a couple of spaces.

  1. Metropolis (1927)
  2. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
  3. Citizen Kane (1941)
  4. Rashomon (1950)
  5. Tokyo Story (1953)
  6. The Rules of the Game (1939)
  7. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
  8. City Lights (1931)
  9. Bicycle Thieves (1948)
  10. The General (1926)
  11. The Man with the Movie Camera (1929)
  12. Late Spring (1949)
  13. L’Atalante (1934)
  14. Battleship Potemkin (1925)
  15. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

Next Up: Ugetsu Monogatari (1953).

I have not seen Ugetsu and know very little about it.