Response Paper: Tokyo Story

601 words | 3 page(s)

The paradox of Yasujiroo Ozu’s Tokyo Story (1953) that I experienced while both watching it and reflecting upon the film afterwards could be stated in the following words: to the extent that the narrative itself is extremely minimalistic, focusing essentially on mundane, everyday relationships, from where does the power of the film come? For Ozu’s film is certainly an emotional powerhouse, a “tearjerker”, which places an emotional and psychological burden on the viewer, in the sense that she is incredibly moved by the family drama told in Tokyo Story.

Certainly, it could be argued that the genre of melodrama plays and manipulates our emotions, choosing themes that are close to everyday life and that everyone can accordingly identify with: the emotional power of the film is short lived, using such techniques of manipulation to make us either feel empathy or sadness. But this is precisely the mystery of Tokyo Story: despite its fairly straightforward and basic storyline, it is something much more greater than a melodrama, and the aformentioned power it generates and effect on the viewer is not the simple melodramatic formula of the manipulation of emotions and psychologies.

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In trying to think of an answer to this riddle at the basis of Ozu’s masterpiece, my first inclination was to try and separate the story from the cinematic experience that Ozu creates. Namely, if we just read a plot summary of Tokyo Story or even a screenplay, I think that the experience would be entirely different than the cinematic final product. In other words, if in other genres of art, such as literature, it is clear that the narrative and the plot is everything, in cinema this is clearly not the case. Certainly, a bad story will affect any film. But here Ozu has taken an inticing and simple narrative and through film techniques and the careful composition, for example, of mise-en-scene, has created something much greater. He uses the narrative as a backdrop and creates through the skill of director a film that transcends the narrative. It is perhaps for this reason that the film is so praised by directors, being rated as the greatest film ever by directors in the 2012 Sight & Sound poll. In Tokyo Story, the artistry and the genius of the director is on full display.

I think one of the ways in which this is most apparent is the way the director’s artistic decisions, using the camera as a type of all-seeing eye, a God’s point of view, which one can imagine is the dream of every director: to capture emotion and meaning in the everyday and the mundane, to be able to reveal to the viewer another layer of reality that the viewer, through his or her own eyes, cannot see. For example, Ozu’s use of static camera work sets up a type of picture frame and confronts the viewer with the deep meanings of the images he places on the screen.

There is in a sense no escape, and the viewer also does not want to escape, admiring the simplicity beauty of the composition of the mise-en-scene, the viewer is dragged further into the world of Toyko Story through its dialogue, but also the way in which Ozu creates an enthralling atmosphere. The power of the film from this point of view is precisely that it is able to create an intoxicating world from a basic minimum of materials, the director’s skills in composition at the forefront, transcending the simple elements of plot so as to create something exceptionally emotional and moving that expresses the human condition.

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