Tokyo Story – What is the film about ? And who is in it ?

April 1st. 2010

These are questions I am asked by some people before they decide if they will attend our U3A session at the Lexi cinema.

These two questions I find impossible to answer. Trying to describe a film in two sentences seems to me an intolerable simplification and basing film-going on known stars is also unacceptable to me.

I have planned the programming of the Lexi around the presence of an older woman in the film. I had found the images of older women in popular fims rather sexist and ageist and my aim is to provide a forum where members of the U3A in Brent would find challenging films with interesting roles and themes relevant to their experiences and dreams.

Up to now, the films elicited lively and varied exchanges and questions around older women issues, and film making. It has also been an opportunity for the women to express themselves publicly. Personally, I found that by adding to the comments I could convey some of my knowledge of film studies and enrich their experience of film viewing.

Yesterday Tokyo Story elicited rather subdued reactions. I must say that unconsciously I felt that the film could not be commented on superficially. I had decided not to concentrate on the representation of the old woman. To focus on this aspect without mentioning Ozu’s style would have for me been impossible, since I think that it is his style that makes the film exceptional when compared to ā€œMake way for tomorrow ā€œ(1937) and Bhagban (2003). The first is the film that inspired Ozu’s scriptwriter and Bhagban a recent Indian remake.

Somebody said the family situation in the film is universally true. Once this is said it is very difficult to go beyond, without examining scene by scene how Ozu achieves this effect on the audience, how the narrative with its ellipses and details of the mise-en-scene build up characters, convey moods, and empathy.

So much has been written about the film. Is it about Bhuddism? Is it about the breakdown of the family after the war in Japan? Is it about Tokyo and big cities? Is it about filial ingratitude or caring? Is it about intergenerational distance? Is it about old couple separation? Is it about women relationships?

At the showing I found it impossible to convey the complexity and the depth of this masterpiece that I think cannot be appreciated fully at a first viewing.

I hope to write about the old woman in the three films: Make Way For Tomorrow, Tokyo Story and Bhagban.

About rinaross

Born in 1935. MA in Film and Television Studies at the University of Westminster 1998. Studying the representation of older women in film since then.
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