12 October 2013 | moviexclusive
Showcasing a strong ensemble cast, Yoji Yamada speaks to the modern audience with his homage to the great Tokyo Story
Cinephiles will tell you about the greatness of Tokyo Story, a 1953 Japanese film directed by Yasujiro Ozu. The story about an aging couple who travel to Tokyo to visit their grown children, only to have them being too busy to pay them much attention, is regarded as one of the most poignant tales ever told on screen. And as with every remarkable piece of work, there is a need to introduce it to a wider audience, hence the contemporary filmmakers' decision to produce Tokyo Family, an interpretation which you can either define as a remake, a tribute or an update.
Yoji Yamada (The Twilight Samurai, The Hidden Blade) takes on this story and gives it a relatable angle to today's viewers. The plot is identical to the classic: An old couple from an isolated part of Japan takes the train to Tokyo to spend time with their grown children, not expecting them to be too occupied and indifferent to host them. A tragic death reunites the family in a quiet country town and has them coming to terms with how they have drifted apart because of selfishness.
Made 60 years after the premiere of Tokyo Story and celebrating the 50th anniversary of the respected Ozu's death, this 146 minute film serves as a kind reminder of the importance of family ties. This is especially current in today's society, considering how new media and social expectations have changed how family members interact with each other.
With that said, Yamada's latest work does not seem to offer anything refreshing. That is nothing surprising though, considering how Yamada was an assistant director of the earlier film. The 1954 graduate of Tokyo University painstakingly attempts to replicate the style of the original, from its slow pacing to how important events are revealed in dialogue instead of being shown on screen.
Those who have watched the original (a large group would probably be film students) may find this version uninspiring, and the younger ones may find their patience being tested with the unhurried storytelling. However, do not let this make you feel that this is an unimportant piece of work. There are still pertinent themes which we as children ought to understand in this evergreen tale. There are times you know how things should work, but nothing works better than a screen visualisation to remind you of how things should be.
There is strong acting from the cast here – Isao Hashizume and Kazuko Yoshiyuki shine in their roles as the unassuming parents who travel to bustling Tokyo from their quiet home on a small island, Masahiko Nishimura's unassuming screen presence gets to you as he plays a GP who runs a clinic from his home, Tomoko Nakajima flaunts her chops as a busy beauty parlour manager, while the charismatic Satoshi Tsumabuki takes on the role of the youngest son who is a freelance stagehand. Each member of the ensemble cast plays his or her character without outshining each other, and gives ample room for performance in the film's many key scenes.
While Tokyo Family may not go down film history as a classic, it is still a commendable piece of work worth your time – if you are willing to sit down and appreciate life's slower moments.