8 April 2007 | GyatsoLa
A cinema of tears
I can vividly remember the first time i saw this movie - it was during a festival of Japanese movies in an art house cinema here in Dublin. I must admit to never having heard of Ozu before, i went out of boredom and casual curiosity. I was embarrassed at the end to find myself in tears. I quickly wiped them away in that subtle way guys do when they don't want anyone to know, and got out to leave. What struck me was that even as the credits were finishing, I was one of the first to go. As i walked up the aisle I realized that most of the nearly full cinema was still sitting quietly, without the usual post movie chatter - and more than half of the audience had tears pouring down their faces. I have never, ever witnessed that in a cinema.
Since then, i've watched it on DVD, and had to think a lot about why such a simple movie is so powerful, and so many people rate it as one of the greatest ever. And why i find myself agreeing with that rating, i truly think it is in the top 10 ever made - certainly the top 5 of any I've seen. But its hard at first to know why. It doesn't have the greatest script of any movie, there are few things in it that are truly original. The acting is great, but not the greatest ever seen, and the technical qualities are just average. I've come to the conclusion that the reason for its greatness is that it comes closest to pure art in cinema. By pure art, i mean art that in its simplicity but technical genius still reveals deep truths about our lives. When i think about Tokyo Story I don't find myself comparing it to other movies, instead I think of a Rembrandt self portrait, a Vermeer painting, or my favourite short story, 'The Dead' by James Joyce. It is simple, unadorned, and deeply wise. I realise in writing this I'm rapidly approaching pseuds corner, but this is my genuine conclusion (writing as someone who is shamefully uneducated in most of the arts).
Of course there have been many great movies about families, about growing old, about the nature of life.... but I think somehow Ozu achieved a sort of perfection with Tokyo Story. Thats why its the only movie I would give a '10' to.