Ozu's Tokyo Story offers timely reflection upon modern life

As Christmas has become more and more heavily marketed and as the internet and technological devices have accelerated the pace of our lives (rather than saving us time, as they were originally intended to do), the holiday season is a perfect time for a film like Yasujiro Ozu's masterpiece and internationally revered Tokyo Story (Tokyo monogatari).

If you weren't already aware, the Cinematheque has been running an extensive retrospective of the world's filmmaking masters called Family Ties: The Sublime Cinema of Yasujiro Ozu. The series began on December 12, which was both Ozu's birthday (1903) and the date of his death (1963), and runs until January 8.

Of course, the one film that all cineastes and humanists must see is Tokyo Story, which plays from Thursday to Sunday (December 26 to 29). It's the perfect antidote to the commercialism of Boxing Week and in light of all the end-of-the-year top 10 lists, this is one that consistently makes all-time top 10 lists for film.

Ozu's thoughtful commentary on the modern human condition follows an aging parental couple who travel to visit their married son and daughter in Tokyo. Unfortunately, their self-absorbed offspring are too wrapped up in their own busy lives and shuttle their parents around. The only one who remains devoted to them is their widowed daughter-in-law who never remarried.

Although made in 1953, the intergenerational and modernization themes remain timeless and universal.

Yoji Yamada did the unthinkable and remade and updated the film this past year, calling it Tokyo Family (Tokyo kazoku) which received—inevitably—tepid reviews.

The film has influenced other features, including Dorris Dorrie's 2008 German film Cherry Blossoms (Kirschblüten), about an elderly German couple whose adult children are too busy to spend time with them. When the wife dies, the terminally ill husband travels to Japan to live out the dream his wife always had.

Ozu's pervasive influence can also be felt in films like Hirozaku Koreeda's Still Walking and Ang Lee's The Ice Storm.  

There are still plenty of other Ozu selections to choose from at the retrospective, including the jovial family comedy Good Morning (complete with fart jokes, demonstrating he wasn't a high-brow snob) to marital dramas about infidelity like Early Spring (Soshun) to reflections upon arranged marriage and widowhood like An Autumn Afternoon (Sanma no aji).     

For a full list of films and screening information, visit the Cinematheque website.

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