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Film Club: Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953)

Tokyo StoryThe next film in our Akira Kurosawa Online Film Club is Yasujiro Ozu’s 1953 masterpiece Tokyo Story, a film often considered Ozu’s best and one of the greatest films ever made by anyone.

Dealing with themes of generational differences, Tokyo Story has a certain thematic connection with our previous film club title, Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru, and the two films are also near contemporaries, with Kurosawa’s film having been released a little less than a year before Ozu’s. Also some faces should be familiar from last months’ films, most notably Nobuo Nakamura, who played the role of the Deputy Mayor in Ikiru, and now appears as the somewhat more likeable son-in-law in Tokyo Story.

However, more than with Ikiru, Ozu’s film connects with two of his earlier works which we have watched in the last year: the 1949 Late Spring and the 1951 Early Summer. Although not directly related to one another in terms of story, all three films feature Setsuko Hara as a single young woman called Noriko, and they all revolve around similar themes of family and marriage in postwar Japan. All of the three films also feature Chishu Ryu, and many other Ozu regulars appear in at least two out of the three.

David Bordwell’s seminal Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema offers a somewhat longer and more detailed introduction to the film than I will give here. You can (and should!) download the entire book for free as a pdf file from the Center for Japanese Studies. It is a little over 400 megabytes, but definitely worth the download.

For the availability of the film, see the film club schedule. While there, you will also notice that our next month’s film club feature will be Seven Samurai. For the availability of that one, depending on your setup check out the Kurosawa DVD guide or the Kurosawa blu-rays.


Discussion

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Vili Maunula

I must say that when I watched Tokyo Story last week, I was a little surprised about my reaction, which was unexpectedly subdued. Frankly, I remember having enjoyed the film more when I last saw it.

I don’t know why I had this reaction now. Maybe because I had just seen and been moved by Ikiru, and it was too soon to watch Tokyo Story?

Or maybe I expected to much, having seen so many excellent Ozu films in the last year and remembering Tokyo Story to be one of my favourites. When I compare them now, I feel that I prefer the other two films in the Noriko trilogy over Tokyo Story. Somehow they felt more rounded, more relevant, less artificial.

I wonder too whether the image quality had something to do with it. Of the three Noriko films in BFI’s dvd+bluray series, Tokyo Story has easily the worst picture quality. If I remember correctly, the original negatives were destroyed, so that might explain why.

I’m not saying that watching Tokyo Story was a bad experience. Far from it! It is a beautiful film. But it didn’t leave me with a similar sense of awe or the same number of questions as for instance Ikiru and Early Summer have in recent months.

I would be very curious to hear your reactions, as you too are watching it within the context of films like Early Summer or Ikiru.

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cocoskyavitch

I am curious, Vili, which version you have. The special Criterion collection had a new digital transfer, double-disk set with “I lLived But…” a 2 hr monograph on Ozu, and interviews with Ozu admirers including Wim Wenders and Paul Schrader…I mean the whole package is luscious.with new English subtitles. Also the cinematographer had worked with Ozu for years…there’s a fun page of his quotes here.

So, I wonder what did not look gorgeous?

I myself cry my heart out each time.

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cocoskyavitch

Vili, have you seen this:

“Tokyo Story” is a monochrome film produced in 1953, directed by Yasujiro Ozu (Figure 1). Yuharu Atsuta is the cameraman of the film. It is famous in the world as one of the best works of Yasujiro Ozu. Unfortunately, its original negative film was lost by fire of the development office. The playing film in movie theaters and video products of today were replicated from an intermediate negative film produced from the original positive film [Hasumi, 83]. When we watch at a screen of “Tokyo Story”, we will soon notice not only natural aging of films in a long period, but also deterioration of image contrast. This would not be the image representation that Yasujiro Ozu and Yuharu Atsuta intended. It is said that, formerly, the image quality of the film was much better. Two living materials escaped from the fire can make us imagine the original quality of the “Tokyo Story” film. One is its preview film for promotion preserved in Shochiku Co., Ltd. Another is a collection of strips of original films removed in the editing process (Figure 2). This is preserved in the University of Tokyo. In spite of the passing of long time, both keep good quality of images.

We have tried film restoration of “Tokyo Story”, one of the most famous Japanese films, in order to bring back its beauty of images by using the forefront of digital technologies such as computer technologies, multimedia techniques, and signal processing.

The page is quite interesting and links to quotes from teh cinematographer himself about working with Ozu (whom he characterized as a lonely clown….!) Here is the link.

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Vili Maunula

Sorry Coco that your two posts got stuck in the spam filter for some strange reason. Thanks for the email to let me know something was not working!

I have the British Film Institute’s DVD+bluray release from 2010. The image is not as clean as with the other two BFI releases in the Noriko trilogy, and the lost negatives may well have something to do with this. It’s a pity really.

Thanks for the link, interesting reading!

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Ugetsu

I have the Tartan Video (region 2) release – I haven’t compared it to other versions out there. The quality isn’t great compared to other Ozu films, which is a pity because the compositions are fascinating and beautiful. But its not bad enough to interfere with the enjoyment of the film. Perhaps its my imagination, but it seems that the crucial final scenes are in better condition (in particular that marvellous scene at the dawn of the mothers death on the rooftop). But perhaps this is because more restoration work has been done on those scenes.

I watched it again last night (first time in about a year) and I shared Vili’s experience that it loses a bit of its power with repeat viewings (in contrast for me with Ikiru which never loses it for me). I can’t recall where I read it, but I recall one writer describing Ozu as the ‘sneakiest’ of Directors – he was referring to the way that the emotional power of the films builds up surreptitiously on the viewer, suddenly hitting with the effect of a punch in the face. In contrast I suppose to Kurosawa where the dynamism of the filmmaking leads us to expect plot twists and turns. With Kurosawa, the pleasure is in the journey, with Ozu I think its the destination. So I find myself watching Tokyo Story again marvelling at how Ozu could achieve so much with such simplicity, while simultaneously perhaps becoming more immune to the emotional punchline.

Another issue for me – and I have no idea why this should be – but when I first watched Ozu films I found his quirks like his breaking of the 180 degree rule and having the characters look more or less directly at the camera to be refreshing – but I increasingly find them intrusive to the narrative and they seem more of a slightly pompous affectation. Perhaps because its having seen some of his earlier films which lack such Directorial flourishes they seem more ‘natural’. I can’t recall which writer stated that Ozu’s later films were inferior to his earlier work for exactly this reason, but I’m starting to agree (Noel Burch I think?).

As always of course with such rich films, with every viewing there is something new to see and enjoy and wonder about. This time for me it is the question of Noriko’s office. Why does Ozu, famous of course for refusing to show events in his characters life that no other directors could resist, give so much time to the rituals of Noriko’s office? Her journey across the office to ask her busy superior for a day off – the clerk answering the phone and walking across to tell Noriko its for her. Why? These seem the little things that with other films would be called clumsy exposition, yet somehow they tell us a little more about Noriko – but of what I’m not sure. The only two explanations I can think of is that Ozu was deliberately trying to give ‘equal time’ to the work lives of Noriko and the four siblings (each of whom are shown in a work setting), or that he was subtly suggesting that Noriko is quite a respected member of the work team and so isn’t quite the lowly office girl we might have suspected. Is he suggesting that the key to maintaining family values is to control the work environment (i.e. Noriko seems to be able to prioritise her private life over work, and perhaps Keiko too, but the other three siblings seem unable to de-prioritise their professions). Perhaps a subject for a thread in its own right.

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cocoskyavitch

Ugetsu…Mmnnn….I thought we were watching Noriko cross the busy office to show that the family life was hugely alien to the office life…that she could ill-afford to take time off…that it would be simpler to just say “I cannot”. I mean, it isn’t a car pulling up to a door. It’s risky, asking for time off, so we can discount the idea that it is “clumsy exposition”. She does not really seem “important” in the office…at least to me. I think it contrasts to the circumstances on the other end of the line…wouldn’t it be so much easier for someone more in control of their business to rearrange a schedule?

Is he suggesting that the key to maintaining family values is to control the work environment

..? Well, yes, he is, and he is also saying that Noriko is the only one of them with a sense of duty.

And, well, not to brag, but the Criterion Collection version, well, maybe you would appreciate it-it is quite gorgeous-the cinematography is fantastic. Very clean images, seamless translation.

Finally, Ozu still sneaks up and punches me in the gut. I am not inured to the painful slights of living…even when experienced through an old Japanese film.

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Ugetsu

Coco

I thought we were watching Noriko cross the busy office to show that the family life was hugely alien to the office life…that she could ill-afford to take time off…that it would be simpler to just say “I cannot”. I mean, it isn’t a car pulling up to a door. It’s risky, asking for time off, so we can discount the idea that it is “clumsy exposition”. She does not really seem “important” in the office…at least to me.

That’s interesting, I interpreted it entirely differently. My feelings watching were that she was given time off very easily, without any ‘issues’ being raised, which I assumed meant she had some status in the office (since her boss reminded her of the report he needed, I assumed that was another way of saying that she’s not so unimportant that nobody cared if she was in the office or not). I also felt that the clerk who passed on the message seemed to be doing it in a respectful way, indicating that she was, if not his superior, then at least a more important person than him.

I can’t really judge of course, since my entire knowledge of 1950’s Japanese office life comes from movies, but in other Ozu films female office workers were often lined up at a desk, filling out forms or click clacking away on typewriters. Noriko has her own desk and was writing something, indicating that she was doing something relatively creative. Of course, whatever she was doing, she wasn’t paid much as we can see from her rather grim apartment.

Otherwise of course I agree with you that the self employed siblings should have been able to make time more easily than a salari(wo)man. Although I suppose we should make allowances for the doctor and his young patient.

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cocoskyavitch

Well, that really is amazing how differently we interpret that scene!

And, I have no basis whatsoever to insist on being right!!!! In fact, I may well be on crack…(just kidding, but who can say how oddly my mind processes things?!!!) I wonder what others think of that scene?

Also my retrospective take on Ozu and Kurosaswa and how their films resonate over time and with re-viewing:

…living in my memory of Kurosawa’s films are the faces:I can see, in my mind’s eye as I type; the face of Rikichi at the water with the fight with Kamatari Fujiwara in 7 Samurai, Bokuzen Hidari smiling in the tenement in the Lower Depths, Minoru Chiaki fighting in the hold with Kamatari Fujiwara in Hidden Fortress…Mifune glaring at the camera/judge in Rashomon…these faces communicate so much meaning to me! Unforgettable! When I go back to revisit them in time, sometimes I am distracted by seeing new details, or I am less attentive to the movement of the story…and that’s as it should be. Suspense is replaced with familiarity, and these become stories of my own.

With Ozu it is the same, too! The two kids…in I Was Born, But…..but especially Tomio Aoki’s face…I absolutely cannot get enough of that kid. He tears me to pieces! Or Hara’s scene with Chieko Higashiyama in the rotten little flat of Noriko’s…or the face of Takeshi Sakamoto in the train station in Story of Floating Weeds!

No, Kurosawa and Ozu both hold up for me!

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Vili Maunula

My interpretation of the office scene(s) was similar to Ugetsu’s. Noriko seems to be fairly respected in the office, and her work place appears to have quite a nice atmosphere. She had responsibility, but also freedom.

I thought while watching the film that even if Noriko may not be financially as well off as the rest of the family, she has found a place where she is quite free to live. She is in the driver’s seat in her life.

It is fascinating to hear that you see faces when you think of Kurosawa film’s, Coco. I always see situations, problems and places. When I think of Seven Samurai, I see the little town, surrounded by those who want to hurt it, protected by those who are there to help. Thinking of The Lower Depths, I see the house, and its location in the pit, its place in relation to the rest of the world. When I think of The Hidden Fortress, the first image is always that of a mountain or high hill overlooking the destination they are trying to reach, with the four main characters standing as silhouettes against a sunny background, and with chaotic fighting on the foreground.

Damn, this could be thread in itself. 😆

And now I want to make film posters!

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cocoskyavitch

I wouldn’t doubt that you would make some awesome images, Vili!

You know, I emphasized the faces…and that’s psychologically true for me-it is about individuals, and that’s my “hook” for Kurosawa (BTW is there any other filmmaker who has such incredible faces??? Think of patriarch at the mill in Seven Samurai-my gosh he is in Inagaki’s films, too-but with such power? NOWHERE NEAR! I don’t understand it still, how different directors can alter the actual looks of an actor/actress-I think of Setsuko Hara in Ozu v.s. Kurosawa-but, it really, really is true-Kurosawa goes for extremes of personality-filled faces and has the best faces in cinema. I used to think “Where does he get these guys? For example, Eijiro Tono is in Tokyo Story, but he is like a “bit” player…did you even notice it was him? He is in so much great Kurosawa- as tinsmith in Lower Depths, kidnapper in Seven Samurai, brother-in-law to murderer in High and Low ) but, I underplayed the importance of environment. It is Rikichi’s face with the beads of sweat and the bleached dusty path and the water in the corner of the image…

I see people in an environment struggling with situations…their faces focussed on the choices they are struggling with…

While that may be too reductive, still, it is a lot of the communicative power! Environment is tremendously important to me, too-like a third actor (we are actors also…then, the actor on the screen, then environment-in no special hierarchy of importance…making 3 ) with a personality quite palpable-
but, just as Gaston Bachelard makes note of a “live” vs an empty nest-the environment takes on a different, new life when engaged with living presence-the information of the lives in the Lower Depths tenement changes that desolate place-and the images of dumping into that pit inform us when we see the inhabitants! Yes, Vili-environment! Our third actor.

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Amnesty11

(Politely stepping in, bowing and saying shitsureishimasu to all….)

I just finished Tokyo Story. I’m sorry, all. Ozu still not my cup of ocha!

But, here’s what I like about it:

I appreciated the settings, I LOVE Ozu’s layered sets, they are like the most beautiful Japanese paper creations ever. ( Vili – I watched the Criterion version: lovely.) I mentioned that before in my last post on the last Ozu film, but that is what impresses me the very most about his directorial styling. I particularly love sitting in the hallway of the Dr.-son’s home, peering into the kitchen and watching people move in and out of different rooms from that vantage point.

In this film, I didn’t mind the obvious conventions. All the symbolic expressions of time and progress. All those scenes of trains, boats, bicycles, people afoot, all moving forward, ever forward. The sound of progress like a ticking clock in each scene (I think that was part of the soundtrack, the chit,chit,chit sound in the background when the couple was back in their home town). Moving forward to what end? Our eventual death, right? The picture of all those tombstones lined up and the brother talking about not being able to serve his parent when she’s dead. I don’t know, some of that is “hit me over the head with a frying pan” type of obvious, but for some reason it it didn’t’ bother me.

I liked Setsuo Hara (sp?) a lot in this one. She does have an incredibly winning charm — I think I liked her best in Early Summer though.

Ozu’s use of movement. The fans, the fans, the fans. That was a brilliant way to choreograph scenes that were otherwise disarmingly static. There was one scene when the eldest daughter and the doctor son are sitting around waiting for mom and pop to show up in the evening, and their fans are waving in this beautiful synchronized dance. Lovely.

So there’s a truly poetic feel to Ozu’s films that I understand. I do. But what leaves me cold (mind you in only these three “Noriko” films, since that’s all I’ve seen of his works), is the trite conversations, the odd breaking of the 4th wall (as you mentioned Ugetsu) ) and the long scenes in which only the most polite small talk goes on and on and on and on.

Of course I just view this from my western mentality. And maybe my particularly Californian one as well. My god, I wouldn’t want to be stuck at THAT family reunion. Shoot me! I don’t think it fair though, entirely, to view this merely as a westerner that can’t lock into the Japanese way of being in the world. I’ve seen enough Japanese films of that time period to know that other film makers have captured family scenes in which much more dynamic conversation is taking place. In fact, when Ozu has that last family scene around the large dining table after the mother’s death and they are chatting about when they were kids together, I found that terribly charming and very real.

I suppose that the trite small talk speaks to the fact that the parents weren’t close with their children. This must be why the adult children can’t really be bothered with their parents. It seems to me that the parents were so un-involved with their children’s emotional lives. The adult children had no foundation of parent involvement — Noriko was right, the adult children had their own lives to live that apparently had had very little to do with their parents for many years. They all left home, and got the hell to Tokyo. Except for the youngest., of course.

I guess I’m saying that if my parents had been the type to just sit around all day, fanning themselves, making the smallest talk imaginable (weather, local gossip, etc.) and folding things into little bits all day long, (and packing and re-packing those bits!) I might want to ship them off to a resort and not deal with them too. Why aren’t the parents asking more involved questions about their son’s and daughters lives? Have they just never been interested at all?

This is harsh. Sorry. I saw a boxed set of early Ozu silents when I was out shopping for gifts for my son’s teachers. I should have bought them for myself, (Coco, and Vili, I think you mentioned these earlier as something I should really see before I write Ozu off all together…) but couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. I will rent them instead, eventually…

This weekend, I’m watching Seven Samurai! I’m moving into a new home next week and then on vacation for two weeks after that so I thought I better watch the film again while I still have my TV set up. SO looking forward to that and the discussion to follow!

Ciao!

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Ugetsu

Hi Amnesty, I’m sorry you didn’t love the film as much as most of the rest of us, but your observations about it are very interesting.

I guess I’m saying that if my parents had been the type to just sit around all day, fanning themselves, making the smallest talk imaginable (weather, local gossip, etc.) and folding things into little bits all day long, (and packing and re-packing those bits!) I might want to ship them off to a resort and not deal with them too. Why aren’t the parents asking more involved questions about their son’s and daughters lives? Have they just never been interested at all?

My interpretation of the failure of the parents to ask any questions is not that they were necessarily uncaring, or that it is a sign of Japanese reticence, but that their childrens lives in the big city are so different to what they are used to that they simply don’t know what to ask, and are a little embarrassed to seem stupid so they keep their curiosity to themselves. The gap in living experience between having had a cosy life in a small pre-war town, and the life of the young people in post war Tokyo is so vast that it makes the typical generation gap seem a very small thing. This is something that does have echoes for me in my own family.

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Amnesty11

Ugestsu, you could be exactly right, come to think of it. However, I still can’t get over the fact that the parents, even with each other, barely speak more than small talk. I kept thinking while watching it that they were perfect for each other because who else could put up with them?

In fact I found it rather droll (or ridiculous, I couldn’t tell which since I couldn’t understand the nuance of the language and only relied on subtitles) that in the end when he is talking with his neighbor about his wife’s death he said something like, “Yes, she was so hard headed but if I’d known it would come to this, I would have been kinder to her.” I thought, “are you kidding me?” This couple gets the award for absolute deference to each other. No married couple in the history of film has ever been this polite to each other day in and day out. The most dynamic conversation they have all film is when she tells him that he did not pack the air mattress and he tells her he’s sure he did. The rest of the time it’s back to fanning and small talk.

So, with that in mind, we wonder at first (I did) oh, so this is just the way Ozu writes. But no, when we meet the younger adults they have normal conversations with each other and with others in their lives. They speak about their feelings, they gripe, they worry, they wonder. But when they are with their very quiet parents they become boring and can’t seem to get out of the circle of talking in a non-intimate way. As if the parents were actually their parents’ friends visiting from out of town. None of them seemed to have any ability to bridge the intimacy gap. Of course, Noriko did, but she wasn’t a daughter. And that’s what the father recognized in the end, and so gave her the watch. But how could the parents expect their children to give of themselves when it’s clear the parents seemed incapable of giving of themselves to the children? I must believe that there is some meat in that. Why would Ozu have all the other characters in their interactions with each other seem totally normal, but when the parents are there, completely stiff and wooden. They are clearly not afraid of them, it’s not that. They just have zero connection.

When i think of the film in this light, I can see it as a family-dynamics psychological study. If it was Ozu’s intention to have us question the intimacy or lack of between family members and reflect on it coming from our own family backgrounds (as you have Ugetsu)…then to me it can become a more interesting film to view. But just taken at face value, I found it annoying.

I also thought, maybe Otosan should mary the nice, plump, talky neighbor! Might be just what he needs after all those years of quiet fanning.

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Ugetsu

Amnesty

This couple gets the award for absolute deference to each other. No married couple in the history of film has ever been this polite to each other day in and day out. The most dynamic conversation they have all film is when she tells him that he did not pack the air mattress and he tells her he’s sure he did. The rest of the time it’s back to fanning and small talk.

That reminds me of the time after I brought my mother to dinner in a restaurant and I mentioned ‘the middle aged lesbian couple in the next table to us’. My mother asked me how on earth I knew they were a lesbian couple. I had to think for a moment (I wasn’t sure why either), then I realised why I was so sure they were – they sat together, apparently quite happy for the whole meal, and hardly said anything at all to each other for a very long time. They couldn’t possibly be just friends or lovers then, only a long term couple could be so content in each others company without having to talk about anything.

So I see Tomi and Shikushi as a couple who have been together so long, and have been through so many ups and downs (not least his apparent mid-marriage alcoholism), that they really don’t need to say very much at all. Everything worth saying has been said. They actually remind me very much of my own parents.

Why would Ozu have all the other characters in their interactions with each other seem totally normal, but when the parents are there, completely stiff and wooden. They are clearly not afraid of them, it’s not that. They just have zero connection.

Of course, Shige, the oldest daughter, actually insultingly referred to them as ‘friends from the country’. I think its pretty clear that the oldest children at least had a fraught relationship with their parents in the past – Shige’s references to being embarrassed by her mother, and the difficulty around the fathers drinking. Kyoko, the youngest daughter, seems to have the best relationship, perhaps because she came along after the marital difficulties had been overcome. What I’m not sure about is whether Ozu is simply making a point about a particular family being unable to overcome barriers erected long in the past, or whether this is intended as a general reference to the impossibility of the post and pre war generations having any kind of meaningful communication.

I also thought, maybe Otosan should mary the nice, plump, talky neighbor! Might be just what he needs after all those years of quiet fanning.

A nice thought!

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Amnesty11

Ugestsu

So I see Tomi and Shikushi as a couple who have been together so long, and have been through so many ups and downs (not least his apparent mid-marriage alcoholism), that they really don’t need to say very much at all. Everything worth saying has been said. They actually remind me very much of my own parents.

I understand the idea of a couple being together for so long that their minds work together and don’t really need to say much to each other. I think that could be true for okaasan and otosan here. I just don’t think that two hours of it make very good cinema. Well, that’s not entirely true, there were very pleasant and poetic moments of them just being together.

Of course, Shige, the oldest daughter, actually insultingly referred to them as ‘friends from the country’. I think its pretty clear that the oldest children at least had a fraught relationship with their parents in the past – Shige’s references to being embarrassed by her mother, and the difficulty around the fathers drinking.

Yes, Ugetsu, I think I’ve underplayed the alcoholism factor here. Perhaps I’m jaded by the current standards in media – the very “out in the open” discussion of it — there is something very old fashioned about the “skirting around” the issue here, so much so that I actually forgot about it when writing this. It’s similar to the way Tenessee Williams wrote all the way around the real issues of his plays without ever naming them directly (but the brilliance in that was when you finally understand it [Brick is gay! Stanley is going to screw Stella’s sister! Mamma wants the Gentelman Caller to herself!], that light bulb going off inside feels like lightening!)

So Ozu doesn’t exactly do that, we do see the father as drunk as they come. But it does seem to be the elephant in the room for everyone and Ozu does dance around it for quite awhile before we really get to see it come to light. So you’re right, maybe they’ve all had to overcome that, and yes, the older kids have a lot of embarrassment and perhaps resentment and anger over that part of their growing up years.

I have some of this in my family too, and I am fascinated by the fact that I didn’t recognize this until you mentioned it Ugetsu! I spent a good part of my younger adult years being mad at my mother for not dealing with my father’s alcoholism – actually accepting it totally – and oddly was never mad at my father!

I guess this is becoming a therapy session!

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Ugetsu

Amnesty

So Ozu doesn’t exactly do that, we do see the father as drunk as they come. But it does seem to be the elephant in the room for everyone and Ozu does dance around it for quite awhile before we really get to see it come to light. So you’re right, maybe they’ve all had to overcome that, and yes, the older kids have a lot of embarrassment and perhaps resentment and anger over that part of their growing up years.

I’ve been reading a little about recent scientific research on alcoholism and what I found interesting in my last look at Tokyo Story is how much the portrayal of the Father is so consistent with this view (its worth pointing out that Ozu was apparently a very heavy drinker, someone who might be described today as an alcoholic). To simplify, a lot of researchers are suggesting that the data says that the traditional western view of alcoholism as a ‘disease’ which can only be cured by total abstinence once the alcoholic has hit ‘rock bottom’ is something which derived from Alcoholics Anonymous culture, and is not an accurate description of the condition. Many alcoholics should be seen instead as people who have lost control of their drinking – it has in effect become a bad habit – and as such can be addressed by changing those habits. In other words, problem drinkers can and do simply recognise the problem and manage to become social drinkers instead.

What interested me about the inferences of the Fathers past problem drinking is that there was no moralising about it, and no attempt to portray his drinking in the film as ‘falling off the wagon’. Sometime in his marriage he drank too much, but later on he didn’t. Its as simple as that. His binge with some old drinking buddies was entirely natural and reasonable in the circumstances, even if it did revive some bad memories for Shige, and perhaps remind her why she didn’t really like her parents.

I’m not altogether convinced the fathers past drinking was an ‘elephant in the room’. I thought the slow unravelling of a motive for the children’s sublimated lack of respect for their parents was brought out very nicely. While we hear directly from both parents why they are a little disappointed with their children, we have to infer why the children were disappointed with their parents. In a way this reveals why Kyoko and Noriko liked them so much – they didn’t have to suffer the ‘bad times’ in the way the three older children had to live through it.

I guess this is becoming a therapy session!

Cheaper than real therapy 😉

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Vili Maunula

Thanks for your observations, Amnesty!

You made me think about something that I have often wondered about but never quite consciously grasped. To me, Ozu’s films seem to have quite a lot of visual repetition or patterns, like for instance the fanning in Tokyo Story that you mentioned.

I now wonder if these repetitive elements are somehow meant as indicating tempo? Is for instance the speed of fanning that the characters do on screen something that Ozu thought about, and is the frequency of that repetitive action somehow meant to influence us as film viewers? Is the act of fanning something like a metronome that ticks and tocks and gives us the basic tempo of the scene? Does this tempo change from scene to scene? Are the other such rhythmical, repetitive devices in his films meant to work in this way?

In any case, it is interesting to read about the annoyance that you feel towards the grandparents. I find them very likeable. Then again, I like all the characters in the film.

I am actually often surprised by people writing about Tokyo Story as if the film somehow blamed the old couple’s children. I just don’t get that from the film at all. Just like I don’t see Ikiru putting any blame on Watanabe’s son and his wife. Things could surely work better between these people, but I don’t think that anyone is to be blamed that they don’t. Things just happen. Life gets in the way. And this is what I love about both Tokyo Story and Ikiru: they illustrate a slice of real life, and not “movie life”.

Then again, perhaps my view of the parent-child relationships in these films is very much influenced by the fact that I see my own parents about once a year, and talk to them maybe four times a year. Ours is a loving family, and there is no particular reason why we don’t interact more often. Rather, there is no particular reason why we should interact more often.

On a somewhat related note, I have actually been thinking about family relationships quite a bit these past couple of weeks, not only because of Ozu but also because I have been savouring Alison Bechdel‘s brilliant new graphic memoir Are You My Mother?, which is about the author’s relationship with her mother. It’s an excellent follow-up to her 2006 book Fun Home, which was about her father. I would highly recommend both.

(Incidentally, she is the very same Bechdel after whom the Bechdel test is named.)

Anyway, back to Ozu. I would very much recommend giving Ozu’s silent films a try. I will in fact forever be in Coco’s debt, for it was her who suggested that we watch some early silent Ozu if we intend to watch any Ozu at all in this round of the film club. Those early silents really made me able to enjoy Ozu in a completely new way.

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cocoskyavitch

Aw shucks, Vili. I just know that silent Ozu shook my world-what a revelation!I truly wasn’t expecting it!

When I began my Kurosawa project those years ago…it was like 2004 I guess…a colleague told me “Ozu”. So, of course I was offended. Did my friend even know the depth and breadth of Kurosawa? Naw…who else would work so hard to decipher Bo-Ying subtitles (that’s what we had back then!) not that guy! He didn’t know the heart of Kurosawa! How could he? Kurosawa was so much more than Martin Scorsese running around a painted landscape set. Turns out, after seeing Ozu’s films, I had to admit that he was right…but it was the silents that broke me into pieces.

Amnesty, the “old” couple of Tokyo Story-I love them! Love them to bits! What happened that they don’t seem so old to me or…foreign? How did I get there? How did Ozu make THAT happen? In fact, the family feels like my own…with my brother not wanting the responsibility of caring for my mother. I’m no Setsuko Hara, though..

Probably the saddest thing is the neighbor lady yelling out to the Ryu “You’ll be lonely” at the end-and his acceptance. What a stunningly beautiful film. Sad. A little funny. True.

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lawless

As you know, I’m not the biggest Ozu fan around. In fact, I found Late Spring and Early Summer tedious. In fact, up to now, the only Ozu film I’ve liked was Tokyo Chorus, one of his silent movies. Amnesty, I’d suggest that you try that first if you’re going to watch his silent movies. Narratively, it’s more like Kurosawa’s movies.

Also, it turns out that Tokyo Story is not the Ozu film I saw while I was in law school. I still don’t know which movie it was. Anyone know of a late Ozu film in which an aging father is the central character and which shows reserve or estrangement between him and his child/children? Unfortunately, I don’t remember the children at all. Or maybe I actually saw Ikiru and am getting confused.

While Tokyo Story is not my favorite film ever, I liked it very much. I wasn’t sure I was going to at first; the movie got off to a slow start with the parents packing and having what was to me a tedious conversation with the lady next door and the conflict with the grandsons. I wonder why bratty boys seem to be the only children who appear in Ozu movies. It’s as if the women never go through childhood. (As an aside, bratty boys are much of the reason I don’t like his silent movie I Was Born, But…, which most other people here prefer to Tokyo Chorus.)

I found the parents endearing and the lack of conflict between them refreshing. They struck me, as they did Ugetsu, as a couple who’d been together so long and were so in synch that they didn’t need to talk in order to communicate. The feelings their children express are mostly negative, whereas while their parents acknowledge the things that bother them (like not being able to sleep at the bustling onsen), they accept and don’t stress over them.

Like Vili, to me, there is no particular blame or estrangement between these characters. What I saw was a parable of what happens when Mom and Dad live in a rural backwater and the kids live in faraway cities because that’s where the jobs are. Irrespective of whether the family was close-knit or not (and I don’t think the movie answers that question, nor do I think it’s intended to), a gap grows by necessity. It takes time and money to travel the distance between the parents and their children, as evidenced by the fact that it was an overnight trip by train. So it’s only natural that they don’t know much about each other, to the point of being virtual strangers.

This separation due to economic necessity has other effects. Noriko is able to shepherd her in-laws around the city because she works in an office where her absence for a day is not going to impede the functioning of the office and its ability to make money. That is not the case for the others. A neighborhood doctor who is a solo practitioner can’t leave his patients in the lurch, although I did wonder why he hadn’t made arrangements to have someone else take his calls for a day or two or why his wife and children couldn’t have gone on the outing with his parents in his absence. The owner of a beauty shop can’t easily leave, especially if it’s marginally profitable, which her cheeseparing suggests might be the case. (Or she might just be tight-fisted.) She might also not trust anyone but herself to record and deposit the daily receipts. And the son in Osaka, who wasn’t the one they were visiting anyway, had no control over his business trips.

In other words, stuff happens. Circumstances interfere. Life is random and unfair. People make plans that aren’t realistic, or don’t think about them, like the plans to go see a kabuki performance. How many times have we had friends tell us, or told our friends, “Oh, yes, we should get together sometime — We have to go see x movie or play –” but when push comes to shove, nothing happens because no one makes the effort to see that it happens? Or we’ve wanted to visit distant friends and relatives, but don’t, and death unexpectedly intervenes?

You could even view the movie as a dig at the world modern capitalism has wrought, where families no longer live in multi-generation households and children are too busy making a living, and too worried about it, to entertain parents visiting from out-of-town. When they try to find something to keep them busy, they pick something that would appeal to them, not someone of their parents’ generation.

So when Noriko says that she’s no better than the rest of them, I think she’s saying that under different circumstances, she might have done the same things as they do. She happens to have the freedom and incentive to spend more time with them than the others do. It’s implied that her husband gave her trouble. Possibly the same kind of trouble as Papa-san gave Mama-san? Perhaps that’s part of her appeal to her in-laws.

Of course, this could just be me and love of social commentary and my desire to see it everywhere. But I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that the movie could be interpreted as an implicit condemnation of the effects of Japan’s adopting a more Western economic and social model.

I also liked the look and feel of the movie more than the other late Ozu films we’ve watched. The open settings and the disregard for the 180 degree rule led to an airy feeling that I didn’t get from Late Spring and Early Summer. In fact, I found all those scenes from those movies in the home, especially those where the camera was aimed down a long hallway, oppressive and claustrophic. I spent a fair amount of time wondering how there was room for the characters to get around with the eating table in the middle of what amounted to a walkway. And unlike Amnesty, I found the shots across the end of a hallway, as character darted in and out of the kitchen, or went upstairs, annoying.

There weren’t as many seemingly random shots of shorlines, trains, or caged birds, either. Ugh, those things bug me. Given Ozu’s inclination towards slice-of-life realism, the inclusion of extraneous shots like that opens things up to the kind of hunt for hidden meaing that leads people to conclude that Ozu’s films are Deep and Meaningful and that Kurosawa’s are Obvious and Unsubtle. I think that’s mostly a lot of bosh, and suggest that this is a legitimate example of differences in qualities, not in quality. Which type of movie one likes is a matter of personal preference, and it ill behooves people to act as though one type of movie or director is inherently qualitatively or aesthetically better than others.

All in all, I can see why this is considered a masterpiece. It’s quiet and slow-moving, but builds to a moving climax. I still probably like Tokyo Chorus better, because the storyline appeals to me and makes the film more enjoyable, but I wouldn’t argue that Tokyo Chorus is a better-made movie. What Ozu accomplishes here is no easy task, and he does so with great subtlety, powers of observation, and delicacy.

As for me, I shudder at the thought of the father marrying the neighbor. Her comments, such as the one at the end about being lonely, are so blunt as to border on the hurtful.

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lawless

Forgot to mention that I much prefer Hara’s acting in Kurosawa’s films than Ozu’s. With Ozu, not only does she seem to be playing the same or similar characters every time, she smiles, or continues smiling, in situations when smiling isn’t called for, like the scene with the younger sister after the funeral. What is up with that? Anyone know?

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cocoskyavitch

lawless, Ozu’s bratty kids thrill me to my core! I’ve never seen kids’ worlds portrayed without sentimentality in such a degree as I have in Ozu films! Their childish dreams, hopes, fears, selfishness, covetousness, impishness, playfulness, anger, loss, feeling of abandonment, confusion and the rest are so real! Love those rotten brats…love them to bits.

On the siblings vs Noriko issue…you’re very nice, lawless, to give the kids a break. But, what we are shown is a good person, the son’s widow, Noriko, making a personal sacrifice in over-ruling her own comfort for the sake of another’s need.That’s a definition of goodness, and it is in contrast to the siblings.

My gosh, Noriko can ill-afford a day off! Just look at that apartment! Are you kidding me? And then she gives her mother-n-law money? You think Noriko has “extra” money?

Naw, you cannot excuse this on economic grounds. The kids could have arranged their lives to host their parents in style-but instead, they eat the little cakes themselves! They’re not horrible, they’re just not very good.

In other words, stuff happens. Circumstances interfere. Life is random and unfair

lawless, No. I must heartily disagree. Ozu was showing us the passing of time and the loss of certain traditions-including those cultural values of respect and honor for mother and father. That he was also showing us the “excuses” the children made to themselves for “not having the time” to deal with the parents is quite clear. That Noriko did not make excuses but made time is significant. I do not wish to damn the siblings, but I think you have already pointed it out:

…the movie could be interpreted as an implicit condemnation of the effects of Japan’s adopting a more Western economic and social model.

I agree, lawless.

I don’t want to damn the kids, because I sometimes dread going over to my mother’s to walk the dog, make her dinner, give her medication, clean her house. Sometimes I want to run around and have my own life. Most people do.

Vili began this thread saying that on recent viewing he didn’t enjoy Tokyo Story as much as before, but you know, as we discuss it, there is such a range of response here, I am guessing he is finding it more fun to think about!

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Amnesty11

So much to comment on, but I’m moving tomorrow and my daughter is graduating the next day and the next day is her birthday party, then two days later off on a vacation. If I can find a moment to comment I will, and I just might…but suffice it to say I do love the back and forth here. It’s truly one of my favorite things to do, to come over to AK.info and have a good read and a good think!

See you next month guys and gals…already watched my first round of Seven Samurai (not my very first, just my first in a long long time)…oh heavenly delight!

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cocoskyavitch

Congrats on the doings in your neck of the woods Amnesty. This is my penultimate post, too. I am off for six weeks in Switzerland, Italy, Greece and Turkey on Saturday.Vili can you get rid of my double post? What happened there? Ugh. Might as well get rid of both posts..so stupid.
lawless, I love that comment about the smile of Hara….I did some cultural training in Portland recently and we looked at a matrix of cultural responses to conflict resolution…and in the indirect corner were our Asian friends….(this was a self-analysis)

I do think the smile is a cultural artifact used to deflect conflict. It has all kinds of ricochets as it hits Western culture from seductive, secretive, hidden to evil.

The way that “Asian” sector of the matrix was characterized by those from a direct and emotionally restrained cultural form of conflict resolution was: sneaky, suspicious, dishonest…

Very interesting stuff about how we look at others-how we misinterpret motives, how easily we can misread! Anyway, for me Hara is quite wonderful in Ozu…I was surprised, though, how much more sexual and sensual she seems in Kurosawa. I really like her in “The Idiot” and “No Regrets for Our Youth“.

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lawless

Coco – Enjoy your trip, and safe travels! I’m sad you won’t be around for part of our discussion of Seven Samurai.

It’s funny that you say that, because from my experience, and my daughter’s when she visited China, Koreans and Chinese are very direct. (I’m half-Korean and many of my Korean relatives live nearby.) They may not say anything, but they generally don’t hide their emotions this way. In fact, a NY Times reporter that the group my daughter was touring with met in Beijing (one of the chaperones knows him, and his presence made their tour guide/government minder very uneasy) mentioned how direct and no BS the Chinese are. When he’s back in the West, he needs to readjust, and when he returns to China, he finds their straightforwardness refreshing.

I don’t know what the demographic composition was of the Asian group used in that research, but I associate indirectness more with the Japanese. I’ve just been reading bits and pieces of a fascinating survey by the Pew Research Group of US Asians here. There’s so much variety seeing as there are six major Asian ethnicities represented in the US (Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Filipino, and Indian), with significant differences among them as well as similarities.

As for the movie, I was looking at the situation from the perspective of a Westerner who lives in an economy that breaks families up like that. I agree that the children are selfish, but I think their selfishness is more of a sin of omission — failing to put themselves out there — than of commission. The parents could have said something to them and been more than passive recipients of their children’s oblesse as well; I see a lack of communication on both sides. But maybe that’s the price of peace between them. Maybe the parents — the mother especially — fears emotional upset and recriminations if she tried to open a dialogue with them about what they’d like to do and how their visit dovetails with their children’s lives. The parents don’t tell the children about their father’s plan to get together with the ex-police chief, either.

IDK, the kids in Ozu’s films come across to me as exaggerations. Maybe it’s that I have a low tolerance for bratty kids. I think I’ve seen more realistic kids in other movies. Stand by Me; the very beginning of Mystic River. (And those are all boys.) It’s just that IRL — at least these days — it seems unlikely to me that the typical Japanese schoolboy is as bratty as that. And that still doesn’t answer the question why Ozu only ever seems to depict boys.

Amnesty – The best of everything to you and your daughter. A move, graduation, a birthday, and then vacation, huh? If she’s graduating from high school, then she’s probably the same age as my daughter, whose birthday was a few weeks ago.

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cocoskyavitch

Awww that’s neat to know that both of you, Amnesty and lawless have daughters the same age!

lawless my sample group consisted of NGO organizers, government employees and university and business professionals who were at the seminar in order to qualify to administer the IDI (Intercultural Development Inventory)-used to evaluate one’s place on the spectrum of Intercultural adaptation.

I cringe at the last word-it’s a compromise for “competence” which is even worse. Intercultural Competence.

ugh…what is the continuum, then…from Culturally Incompetent to Competent? Hate that.

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lawless

Coco – Do you know the demographics of the Asian member of that group, and were they US residents or foreign residents here temporarily?

I hate jargon. I’d never heard the word “rubric” until the school district started using it. (Although they were probably merely aping the NJ Department of Education.)

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Vili Maunula

First of all, those of you who disappear for the summer, I wish you the most pleasant adventures, even if I’m sad to see you go. I hope your move goes well Amnesty, and Coco if you happen to swing by my neighbourhood, let me know! There is actually a small chance of also me being in Turkey sometime in July, but it is very small indeed, and probably won’t be happening.

And congratulations to everyone’s daughters and everyone’s daughters’ parents for all the birthdays and graduations! Happy times.

Thank you lawless for your brilliant observations, I think that I agree with just about everything you said about the family dynamics in Tokyo Story. On the subject of girls in Ozu’s films, Tokyo Chorus also has a daughter, although if my memory serves me well I think she is actually quite tomboyish. She was played by none other than 7-year-old Hideko Takamine. I don’t know why this fact always impresses me so much.

It is a very good question why Ozu’s children seem to be so unruly. I wonder if he just didn’t like children, and portrayed what he saw them as being like? If so, I can actually understand him very well.

Coco, you are absolutely correct that I’m very happy with the discussion here on Tokyo Story. But then again, I’m always happy to hear what you guys think, whatever the film! I’m also thinking that I should perhaps invest in the Criterion edition, as BFI’s print quality may have put me off here, even if I’m usually not so fussy about film quality.

I’m not sure what happened there with your double post Coco. Maybe the server coughed up something just when you posted. Well, better two posts than none! Although I did remove one of them now.

Finally, I cannot restrain myself from commenting on Intercultural Competence, as that is exactly what I wrote my thesis in language pedagogy on back at the university. Basically, I argued that when teaching global languages like English, a major emphasis should be put on teaching intercultural competence, to allow these language learners to more successfully navigate through conversations where the communication partner is from a cultural background unfamiliar for the speaker.

To directly answer your (perhaps rhetorical) question Coco, the continuum from someone who has low intercultural competence to someone with high intercultural competence has to do with how well they deal with the unfamiliar, and how well they can handle uncertainty. Someone with low competence will be guided by prejudices, will judge their communication partner solely through his or her own cultural background, and will not tolerate ambiguity. Meanwhile, someone with high intercultural competence is more open towards difference, constantly evaluates his or her intercultural experiences, understands that uncertainty and ambiguity are a large part of intercultural communication, and has some necessary linguistic and behavioural tools to deal with those uncertainties and ambiguities.

Guys like Hofstede, Trompenaars and Hall are quite interesting reading for anyone who is interested in the topic. There are probably newer names as well, but those were some of the big ones back when I did my research.

I would certainly say that sometimes things are over-simplified in the field, a case in point being the kind of matrices that Coco mentioned, which are interesting and illustrative, they can also be dangerously simplistic. They do serve their purpose, though!

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Amnesty11

Just a footnote on a few things before I head out — first of all, Lawless, that’s so cool about your daughter! Congratulations! Mine just graduated from elementary school (no cap and gown, just a couple speeches, songs and awards) and it’s the end of an era, since I was a big part of fundraising for the school and it feels like my second home. (In fact, I organized a mom’s flash mob in the middle of graduation to a song I wrote which parodied a history musical they perform every year. It was guaranteed to either horrify or delight the the 11 year olds…which it did in equal parts…never to be forgotten, for good or bad,I suspect…)
Good luck with your young adult this summer – I hope you share some of her new adventures with us sometimes.

Second of all, Coco, WHAT? You won’t be around for Seven Samurai? No.!!..you must find a way to get on a computer at some point and check in (flirt with the night watchman at the front desk!) Or if you simply can’t then please catch up the minute you get back!!

OK, people. Ozu! I leave on vacation tomorrow and I just got back from the bookstore where, thanks to your suggestions, I purchased a set of Silent Ozu (Tokyo Chorus, I Was Born But…, Passing Fancy) because really, I think I need to have SOME understanding about why you are all so crazy about him. Hopefully, this will help.

I have to say that Tokyo Story pops up in my mind a lot more often than I ever thought it would, especially the parents. Somehow they have resonated with me in an intangible way. I wonder what that’s all about. After reading the posts here and thinking more and more about the story, I do see it as Lawless does

But I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that the movie could be interpreted as an implicit condemnation of the effects of Japan’s adopting a more Western economic and social model.

I have to watch it one more time and just get over the pace of it perhaps and be more open to the study of society and progress.

Also, I forgot to write about something you said Ugetsu, in your post way back. I have to say, I have wondered a lot about the idea of “alcoholism” and Japan or say, Italy or France. At least in Europe, it doesn’t seem to be such a moral problem to drink too much – and from what I saw and have heard it doesn’t seem so in Japan either. A friend of mine who is in AA won’t even entertain the idea of going to Japan “because of all the tolerance of alcoholism.” It’s a tricky subject. I was wondering what the deal was in Tokyo Story when the parents kept saying that the son (the dead son) was problematic for Noriko. They were fairly apologetic about it, but do we ever learn what the issue was? I can’t remember now. Was he a drinker? Did he abuse her? I wondered quite a bit. (Or did they reveal what that was and I missed it?) I agree there seemed to be no moralizing whatsoever about the father’s past drinking days and that’s very different than what you would see in just about any American dramatic film i can think of. (There seems to be very little moralizing about drinking too much in American comedies, however…)

And lastly Vili

Finally, I cannot restrain myself from commenting on Intercultural Competence, as that is exactly what I wrote my thesis in language pedagogy on back at the university. Basically, I argued that when teaching global languages like English, a major emphasis should be put on teaching intercultural competence, to allow these language learners to more successfully navigate through conversations where the communication partner is from a cultural background unfamiliar for the speaker.

To directly answer your (perhaps rhetorical) question Coco, the continuum from someone who has low intercultural competence to someone with high intercultural competence has to do with how well they deal with the unfamiliar, and how well they can handle uncertainty. Someone with low competence will be guided by prejudices, will judge their communication partner solely through his or her own cultural background, and will not tolerate ambiguity. Meanwhile, someone with high intercultural competence is more open towards difference, constantly evaluates his or her intercultural experiences, understands that uncertainty and ambiguity are a large part of intercultural communication, and has some necessary linguistic and behavioural tools to deal with those uncertainties and ambiguities.

Fascinating! Truly!

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Cocoskyavitch

I guess the forum doesn’t like my iPad…I’m in Feusisberg, Switzerland…reading these comments. First, lawless, you’re quite right- these pronouncements on culture can be blunt instruments and miss the mark. Vili, this is exactly my concern…as well. I’ve traveled widely throughout China, and work with Scholars Abroad-a branch of the Chinese Ministry of Education, and my own experiences and friendships confirm the direct nature- the refreshingly direct nature of communicating with the Chinese.

My disgust with the term “cultural competence” comes partly from the colossal egotism of the language…I prefer the baseline scholarship language of ” cultural sensitivity” instead. It appears to have more humility…!

Finally, Vili, Yes, yes, of course, the training took us deeply into the readings and exploration of the continuum…we had several weeks to prepare for the three day seminar…and we took the IDI and were analyzed ourselves so that we could then understand more deeply the application to one’s own experience. There’s an interesting app for iPad based on Hofstede’s work called “Culture GPS”…you might want to play with that and tell me what you think.

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lawless

I’m going to try to cover a bunch of stuff here. Bear with me.

Amber Benson, the actor who played Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, recently tweeted about having a crush on someone who died before she was born. Although Mifune died in our lifetimes, I think that bears some relation to how Amnesty, Coco, and I feel about the younger Mifune.

Vili – There was a girl in Tokyo Chorus? As I remember, they had a elementary-school aged child and a baby. The older child who wanted a bicycle (or something like that) was a girl?!! I am just blown away.

Amnesty (I know you’re probably not around right now unless you took a laptop or tablet on vacation with you) – I rewarched the movie yesterday so I could listen to the commentary, and noticed (which I’d forgotten) that the old couple asks Noriko if Shoji drank, and she says “yes.” Given the looks they gave her, I think that is a reference to alcoholism. It’s also possible that he did other things; his father mentions how willful and lively he was as a child.

As for drinking generally: It has a different place in Japanese culture than in ours. It is more or less expected that salarymen will go out drinking after work with their buddies, bypassing home and dinnertime. As David Desser says in his commentary, it’s viewed as an opportunity to let down the normal barriers people erect to conform and be polite, which gives everyone an out and an excuse for anything they do that’s outrageous.

The commentary got me thinking. I think Desser comes down too hard on the children. From a Confucian point of view, they are lacking in respect, but I think Ozu’s view of it is that life is imperfect and transitory, and people naturally grow apart and don’t follow through on what they want to, which is more of a Buddhist way of looking at it.

I don’t think Shige and Keizo’s protestations of grief are insincere. And much of the movie suggests that Shige and Koiko have very real economic concerns and that taking time off to escort their parents may well spell the difference between making enough money to live and falling short. I am reminded in this regard of the famous speech of Mr. Micawber in Dickens’ David Copperfield, where a few pence or whatever of profit means happiness and a few pence of deficit means misery and debtor’s prison.

I also think that Shige, especially, bore the brunt of the turmoil over her father’s excessive drinking and that this colors her relationship with both her parents. I don’t know how unusual outspoken women like her are in Japan, but I can tell you from person experience that they’re not that unusual among Koreans, as I had an aunt who was a blunt and obnoxious as Shige. At a family get-together, she once told me that I’d get as big as a house if I continued drinking white Russians (I’d had one), and she also scolded me for mixing drinks because I had a White Russian after having a Tom Collins. On the way to the reception at her eldest grandson’s wedding, she complained about how much a nephew who had RSVP’d but failed to show up was costing them.

Perhaps I have sympathy for Shige because, while I think I’m more compassionate and hospitable than she is, I often act the way she does. It is annoying for one’s drunken father and someone you don’t recognize to wake one up in the middle of the night. Note that she doesn’t leave them in the chairs. She finds them a place to sleep. She may grumble all the while, but she still does it. And when it’s clear that her mother is dying, she goes to see her.

Perhaps one reason Shige is the way she is, and that Kyoko is aghast at her older siblings, is that the father reformed once Kyoko was born. Shige and the others may resent that, and resent Kyoko for being the cause of it, thinking “Why could he reform for her sake but not for ours?”

That said, the father does seem to have learned his lesson, despite his drunken binge. He recognizes the pain he gave his wife and wishes it wasn’t so. Perhaps giving Noriko her watch is a part of that repentance, especially if her husband gave her the same sort of trouble he gave his wife.

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coco skyavitch

lawless, I so appreciate you finding ways to pull us from the brink of damning the children…but, truly, Ozu is showing us a clash of cultures…and the painful interactions resulting from different worldviews colliding.
In the parent’s worldview, dishonoring one’s parents is a very not-good thing. Ink the kid’s world, they are busy…it really isn’t ABOUT the parents.
You don’t need to find economic excuses…if they can afford to send parents to a resort…even a crummy one-they can afford to spend some time. And there is no excuse on earth for referring to one’s parents as relatives from the country. Really not god, don’t you think?
I’m not discounting that there was trouble in the family…there most often is. Still…!

Finally, the son who died in the war…he somehow seems mysteriously bad, and I have wondered exactly what was the trouble he gave Noriko. You’re probably right…a combination of drink and something darker.

Sunny in Zurich today, high around 31c.

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Vili Maunula

Coco: I guess the forum doesn’t like my iPad…

I’m sorry to hear that, Coco. I’m currently in the middle of working on an update for the website, and I’ll see if I can somehow test the new website with an iPad as well. I don’t own any Apple devices myself, but I’ll see what I can do.

Coco: My disgust with the term “cultural competence” comes partly from the colossal egotism of the language…I prefer the baseline scholarship language of ”cultural sensitivity” instead. It appears to have more humility…!

That’s a good point. On the other hand, from a language teacher’s perspective, “cultural competence” sounds like something that you can teach, while “cultural sensitivity” would be trickier. I guess here, as in so many other places, your name for the object depends largely on its intended use!

Coco: There’s an interesting app for iPad based on Hofstede’s work called “Culture GPS”…you might want to play with that and tell me what you think.

Sounds like an interesting idea! Unfortunately, they don’t seem to have a version for non-Apple devices, so I don’t get to try it. But it does look interesting.

lawless: There was a girl in Tokyo Chorus? As I remember, they had a elementary-school aged child and a baby. The older child who wanted a bicycle (or something like that) was a girl?!! I am just blown away.

Unless I’m mixing up something, they actually had three children: two elementary school aged ones and a baby. Here are the older ones, and I think the one on the right is the girl. (The picture is from this web page.)

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lawless

Coco:

Ozu is showing us a clash of cultures…and the painful interactions resulting from different worldviews colliding.

In the parent’s worldview, dishonoring one’s parents is a very not-good thing. Ink the kid’s world, they are busy…it really isn’t ABOUT the parents.

I agree with you. I think where we differ is the extent to which we draw moral conclusions from that, or think that Ozu draws moral conclusions from it.

Vili: I thought there were two children, not three, in Tokyo Chorus..

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Vili Maunula

I just watched Leo McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow (1937) which, as Ugetsu has mentioned a couple of times, was an inspiration for Ozu’s Tokyo Story. I just wanted to say that I would strongly recommend it to anyone. It is such a beautiful, intelligent and moving film. It definitely went straight to my personal pile of favourite films ever made.

But do have a pack of paper tissues handy when you watch it! Orson Welles, a big fan of the film, apparently once said that Make Way for Tomorrow would make a stone cry, and I don’t doubt that for a moment.

Yet, even if it’s a tearjerker, it’s very well done. Very very well indeed.

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coco skyavitch

Hello from Crete! We arrived this morning at sunrise, disembarking and taking a long hike to our humble family place. Students, deprived of sleep ( super-fast ferries, must you rush the night crossing?) needed apick-me-up since our rooms weren’t ready…we had a breakfast in the Lions fountain square then walked along the sea walls past the Venetian Fortress out to the lighthouse and dozed with the fishermen eyeing our beauiful young ladies sprawled like fish in the sun. Today, the archeological museum of Minoan art.
Vili, you lived here, right? Well, the economic austerity measures have not hit Crete so visibly as Athens. El Greco looking good with nice cafes surrounding his park, and the town as lovely as ever…
I will check the Make Way for Tomorrow film on return. Happy summer, all!!!

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Ugetsu

Thanks for checking in coco, Crete sounds wonderful!

Sadly, I missed Make Way for Tomorrow when a cinema here was showing a restored print, I’ll see if I can track it down on DVD.

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Vili Maunula

Hi Coco! Great to hear from you. Say hi to Crete for me. 🙂 We indeed used to have a flat there.

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Amnesty11

Hi Coco – my nephew is off to Crete tomorrow for 10 days of sailing! Lawless and I miss our Mifune Lovers club member after watching Seven Samurai this month! In fact I think we’ve both been holding back…

By the time you get back, I will be off to Alaska. But plenty of time there to watch films and write!

Enjoy the ούζο!

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Ads

Hello everyone, my first post on these forums. Haven’t really had a chance to read through everyone’s thoughts yet. My thoughts however have been mixed over this film. The first time I watched it I was disappointed, and checking how much was left, which is always a bad sign.

However, after re-watching recently I found that the piece was, although slow moving, a gentle, but much more valuable and important piece of cinema than I had first thought. I was frustrated by the lack of any camera movement the first time round, but admired it the second.

I’ll post more of my thoughts later. But I look forward to using these forums.

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Vili Maunula

Hello Ads and a warm welcome!

Your initial reaction to Tokyo Story sounds quite familiar to me. It’s nice to hear you gave it another chance though, and also ended up liking it more. Ozu’s style can indeed take some getting used to. Have you seen other films by Ozu?

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Ads

Thanks for the welcome Vili.

The style of his cinematography and the way he uses it to tell the story was very striking, and as you can say you almost need to watch it more than once, just to take it in properly.

I haven’t seen any other films by Ozu but hope to at some point this summer. You seem like a very tight knit community here, which is nice to see.

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Vili Maunula

Yes, we are quite tight knit and may not be big in number (unless you count the lurkers), but we compensate that with quality. 😉 Good to have you with us!

If you do get the chance of watching more Ozu this summer, let us know how you liked them. Also, keep an eye on our film club schedule, in case you want to join our monthly discussion club. This month it’s Seven Samurai, next month The Magnificent Seven. There is a lot of interesting stuff coming up, and it’s always very interesting to hear different views and takes.

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Amnesty11

Hi Ads,

Welcome! I am relatively new here too (lurked for awhile and then came on board in January). It’s a great group and a great site – Vili is administrator/designer (Vili, is that what you would call yourself here?) of the site. Or Head Honcho/CEO 😉 ?

Ads, I too had a hard time with Tokyo Story, not understanding what all the fuss was about from other members. I didn’t dislike it, it just didn’t call out to me. However, on the advice of several members here, I purchased some silent Ozu films. I must devote another post here soon to my experience with Tokyo Chorus – the first silent in the set that I purchased. It’s truly a masterpiece. I can’t wait to get to the next two films…

So bottom line, Ozu may or may not work for you, depending on the film. I want to watch the trilogy I have and then re-watch Tokyo Story to see if it changes my mind about that film in particular.

And as far as tight knit community, you’re right and it’s wonderful! However we are a little scattered this summer so not as much activity– but hopefully this will pick up as everyone winds down their vacations and gets their kids back into school.

I meant to revisit Seven Samurai before the end of this month but it looks like I won’t be able to…but what’s cool here is that you can comment on any film at any time, so if you’re catching up on films, there’s still a means to discuss and dialog about it. (Even monologue about it, as I am wont to do!)

Glad to have you check in!

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dylanexpert

A critique, a challenge and a quiz

Vili’s reaction to TS is very interesting, because I felt something somewhat similar the most recent time I saw it a few weeks ago. Rather, I was moved more intellectually than emotionally, than was the case the first time I ever viewed it. Part of my reaction, I suppose, comes from the fact that Late Spring, not TS, was the first Ozu I ever saw (in a college film class taught by New York Times critic Roger Greenspun), so the later film doesn’t have the sentimental significance it has for other fans.

My favorite Ozu of all time would have to be Early Summer. It has everything an Ozu film should have — humor, surprise, charm, mystery. And of course it has Setsuko! Best of all, it has more camera movement than all the other late-Ozu pictures combined, including the director’s only extant crane shot (the most beautiful such shot in the history of movies). On the other hand, TS is more powerful and more tightly written, and it features Hara’s greatest performance ever, so it does have some claims to preeminence. So if someone were to ask me “Which film is Ozu’s best?” I’d name both, and walk away.

I agree with Coco in her interpretation of Ozu’s attitude towards the old couple’s children. Many people seem to think that “unsentimental” and “unmelodramatic” as attributes of Ozu and his cinema (generally speaking) translate as “nonjudgmental,” and I don’t think that’s true at all. Ozu didn’t seem to believe in evil as Kurosawa did, or at least didn’t want to talk about it in his movies, but he did believe in sensitive behavior and its opposite, and he always defended and admired the first and deplored the second. Noriko is perhaps his sharpest and most artistic portrait of a sensitive person, and Shige (played brilliantly by Haruko Sugimura) his finest portrait of an insensitive person.

I have a challenge and a quiz for club members.

I’m about to promote my Late Spring Wikipedia page, probably this weekend. If anybody in the club is a member in good standing of Wikipedia, and likes my article, I’d greatly appreciate it if you would vote to support its promotion. You may do so by logging in, going to the Featured Article Candidates page, finding my article and following the instructions.

My quiz is the following: in recent times, in film polls taken both within Japan and elsewhere, two films are consistently cited as the greatest Japanese productions of all time: Ozu’s Tokyo Story and Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. Yet only one cast member (actually the only member of the creative team of either film) worked on both films. Name the actor and the roles he played in each movie. (Hint: this shouldn’t be too hard for Japanese film fans!) 😉

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cocoskyavitch

Amnesty…Alaska? That’s awesome! Welcome to our new friend, Ads! And, Dylanexpert, gonna say it is Eijiro Tonno ( spelling? This is from memory) who played Manzu ( sp?) in 7 Sam and the drunk buddy in Tokyo Story?

Ramazan in Istanbul…the evenings are wonderful with festival booths alight in twinkle bulbs and demonstrations of techniques from calligraphy to copper smithing..the old Ottoman skills kept alive, and the booths of sweets, and my favorite Turkish coffee beans for sale from Mehmet Effendi! Throngs crowd the parks and streets, and though the area between Sultanahmet and Hagia Sophia may be touristic in the day, by night the families take over, camping on the lawns with strollers, babies, teens, eating sweets, talking and visiting with friends until 2 in the morning when the big bands walk through with drums telling people to go make the pre-dawn meal…
Ramazan is special, here, and we are so lucky to see it! last night our new friends invited my colleague and myself to dinner. Mehmet is a master felter-he is a living treasure-named by UNESCO as a cultural heritage world craftsman. Theresa and he demonstrated the making of felt, from choosing wool, carding, picking roots and herbs for dyes, blending for colors, making the form, laying on the design in felt. Just wonderful and amazing! Dining with them and hearing Mehmet’s stories-absolutely fantastic night..we ate until midnight and hated to leave!
I will be home in a little more than a week, eager to rejoin the group and hear your thoughts!

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dylanexpert

Coco,

You got my quiz two-thirds right! Yes, it was Eijiro Tono who played in both films, and yes, he did play a drinking buddy, Namata, of the elderly Shukichi in Tokyo Story. However, in Seven Samurai, it was another Kurosawa regular, Kamitari Fujiwara, who played Manzo the farmer. Tono played the hysterical kidnapper of an infant who was tricked by Kambei in his disguise as a priest, then sliced and diced by him. But two-thirds is close enough for me to call it a win.

I envy you being in Istanbul right now: it’s a beautiful city! You describe its magic qualities very well. The felt-making lesson sounds fascinating. Please tell us more when you get back.

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cocoskyavitch

Oh of course…the slow-mo kidnapper! Arrrghh..the call to prayer and the late night revelry of Ramazan have me addlepated!

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Amnesty11

Coco

Not SO addlepated that you can’t paint a lovely picture of Istanbul for us! I’m right there!

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Ugetsu

I was trying to resist the temptation to look up imdb! I’d never have guessed the kidnapper and the drinking buddy no matter how many times I watched it.

Dylanexpert, Late Spring is my personal favourite Ozu for reasons I find very hard to explain. Sorry I can’t promote the wikipedia page, they are very stubborn about maintaining a ban on me for something I didn’t do (the price I paid for using a work pc to access wikipedia – some colleagues were busy at the same writing rude things about a particular football team!).

Coco, your descriptions of Istanbul sound wonderful, I must add it to my lengthening list of places I must visit….

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lawless

Coco – It’s good to hear from you during your travels. I was out of town myself recently visiting people I’d met through LiveJournal who live in the DC area and Baltimore, and although I had a Kindle Fire tablet with me, typing on the touchscreen is enough of a chore and a challenge to deter me from posting.

I’ve been to DC before, but I was able to visit Mount Vernon for the first time, and this was my first visit to Baltimore; before, all I’d done is drive or ride through one of the harbor tunnels on my way to DC. Inner Harbor, the National Aquarium, and both the new and rehabbed buildings downtown and along the waterfront are pretty spectacular.

Amnesty – Enjoy your trip to Alaska! We’ll reconvene a full meeting of the Toshiro Mifune appreciation club when you return.

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cocoskyavitch

DC is awesome, I’ve never had quite enough time there, lawless, enjoy!!!! get to the National Gallery and say hi to the Ginevra de Benci for me…
Iftar meal last night with all the students as a celebratory last supper. We were at a new, fabulously chic place with the kind of service you dream of..bread is super-important to the Turks and our one ciliac (. sp?) student was treated to special gluten-free bread they baked in the woodfire oven before our very eyes. She cried tears of thankfulness. A planted wall of greenery on an artifical grotto was set off by the crystal, mirror, steel and subdued lighting of a very posh highrise setting…we waited as they brought the traditional Break-fast dates, house-made jams, honey, spreads, five kinds of olives, sliced meats, pate, tahini, cheeses, vine leaves with rice ( the new leaves this time if year are so tender) bourek of many sorts, the spicy feta, ekmek, filled our water goblets and juice glasses…one student unthinkingly reached for his water..”Jeff!” we cautioned…
Then we heard the call and the feast began. Course after course…the meal lasted from sundown until almost midnight. A very successful supper, thanks to my friend Katie, whise interventions, translations and suggestion turned out so well!

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