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Short Essay

June 22nd, 2010 (09:09 am)

Title: None
Word Count: 492
Beta: None
Rating: G
Summary: Thoughts on Yasujiro Ozu's 1953 film Tokyo Story.
A/N: This was something I wrote in a burst of inspiration one afternoon this past semester. It's completely unedited because I composed it directly in a Facebook note. Concrit is welcome.


Many of you have heard me rant for the past week or so about how much I hated Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story (1953). My main complaints were that it was incredibly boring, and nobody seemed to show any emotion about anything. However, as I come upon the hour of my group presentation on this film, I find myself thinking about it in new ways. The class discussions on the film made me realize that the lack of concern anyone shows for Tomi's death is actually central to the meaning of the film: her children have become so painfully distant and selfish, that they are barely even affected by her passing, aside from the mild inconvenience of having to travel to attend her funeral. Nevertheless, I still failed to understand why the film is hailed as a masterpiece of fine cinema.

Then today, over my Hawaiian pizza at lunch, as I watched people come and go across the courtyard of the Quads, it occurred to me that I was looking at this film in entirely the wrong way. Whereas I had expected something more akin to modern Western cinema, Ozu's goal had been entirely different from that of most filmmakers I am familiar with. While films are normally expected to be exciting and colorful and appealing to the broadest possible audience, Ozu's film was understated and simple. I had a brilliant breakthrough then: Ozu's goal hadn't been to entertain, but to create visual poetry.

As an English major and someone with some amount of experience with poetry, this turned my previous interpretations of the film entirely on their heads. When dealing with poetry, it is not uncommon for the meaning of the words on the page to take a backseat to the flow of those words, they way they sound and work together. A poet does not merely wish to convey an idea, for they could do that easily in prose as I am right now. A poet wants to create something meaningful, yes, but they also want to create something beautiful. For some poets, such as e.e. cummings, their desire to create beauty leads them to throw conventional structure to the winds, forcing their reader to focus entirely on the sound and feel of the words in front of them, not the coherent sentences they may or may not form.

This, I believe was Ozu's intention with Tokyo Story. Some typical elements of film remain, but he reworks them in such a way that sets him vastly apart from any other director I know. Many of the shots in his films are like still life portraits, if they happened to be hanging in Hogwarts castle, and even many shots inside homes are structured in such a way as to create a frame within the frame of the film itself. It is a series of paintings that tell a story, and the simplicity of it all is reminiscent of a Japanese haiku.

A link to the trailer for Tokyo Story: http://www.trailerfan.com/movie/tokyo_monogatari/trailer