Tag Archives: Sugimura Haruko

“Tokyo Story” (1953): The greatest?

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Ozu’s 1953 “Tokyo Story” (Tōkyō Monogatari’) was voted the best film ever in 2012 a Sight & Sound poll of film directors. I don’t see this choice: it’s not even my favorite postwar Ozu film. (Just as I prefer “Chimes at Midnight” to the old champion, “Citizen Kane.” The most recent (2012) S&S critics poll has “Vertigo” #1, “Citizen Kane” #2, “Tokyo Story” #3. I love “Vertigo,” but my favorite Hitchcock film is “Notorious” BTW, the first of Ozu’s Noriko trilogy, “Late Spring,” was #15; “Seven Samurai” was #17, “Rashomon” #25, (they were #17 and #18 in the directors’ poll), “Ugestsu” tied for #50.)

There is one tracking shot in “Tokyo Story,” though I don’t see any particular reason for it. There is a lot of intercutting, though often between static shots. And, typically of Ozu, many shots are held after all characters leave the frame. The music is a bit sentimental, though not cloying.

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Insofar as so quiet a family movie has events, they are mostly not shown. Rather, they are alluded to (or in some cases talked about) after they have occurred (though the film drags out to 139 minutes). I think the characters are all types, though exquisitely acted by the Ozu/Shochiku troupe of actors. Ryû Chishû smiles and makes subverbal backchanneling noises (Hmmm, Ummm, etc.). Higashiyama Setsuko also smiles and begs others not to inconvenience themselves on her account. Sugimura Haruko plays her usual unpleasantly selfish character (the eldest daughter, Shite), while Hara Setsuko as the childless widow of the couple’s older son smiles and does all she can to smooth over the ingratitude and selfishness of Shige and Dr. Hôichi, the eldest son (Yamamura Sô) and his two bratty y sons. The youngest son of the elderly couple, Keizô (who lives in Osaka) only appears late, along with Kyôko the unmarried teacher who lives with her parents in Onomichi, in Hiroshima Prefecture. (The rest have migrated to Tokyo. They don’t seem to have seen their parents since before the war; the grandchildren are meeting their grandparents for the first time.)

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The movie probably encourages everyone with still-living parents to be more patient with and nicer to them, and it stimulates those whose parents to have died with twinges of guilt.

The movie was inspired by the 1937 Leo McCarey “Make Way for Tomorrow” in which an elderly couple (Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi) lose their house and none of their five children will take both of them in. “Tokyo Story” also inspired Doris Dorrie’s “Cherry Blossoms” (2008) in which a final trip is planned by a mother, her husband not realizing she is mortally ill. And it was remade in 2013 by Yamada Yôji.

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

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“Money is everything”: Naruse’s “Bangiku”

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The “Late Chrysanthemums” of the title of Naruse Mikio’s 1954 movie (“Bangiku” in Japanese, based on three 1948 stories by Hayashi Fumiko [whose fiction was also the source of Naruse’s 1955 “Floating Clouds”]) are four middle-aged former geishas, who had made it through the (Pacific) war. The one with the most screen time, the miserly Kin (Kinoshita and Ozu regular Sugimura Haruko), is a property speculator and money-lender. She goes around collecting rent. She retained some nostalgia for a married patron, Tabe (Uehara Ken, typecast as a seductive cad), who was also in the army in Manchuria and primps for his visit, only to find that he is there hoping to borrow money. As is her one-time lover, Seki (Miaka Bontaro), who tried to kill her in a failed “double suicide” (he cut his throat and stabbed her, for which he was rightly convicted of “attempted murder,” since Kin had not wanted to die then). Kin does not drink or gamble or go out except to collect rent (she has a deaf-mute serving girl (Sawamura Sonosuke) to buy groceries).

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Two of her former peers are widows, each with one feckless child. Tomi’s impudent daughter, Sachiko is marrying without consulting letting alone gaining approval of the match to an older, affluent man from her mother. Tamae’s son Kiyoshi (Koizumi Hiroshi) has never held down a long-run job (I think he has been a gigolo), is sponging on a woman old enough to be his mother, and is going off to Hokkaido for a new job. Both the alcoholic Tomi (Arima Ineko) and the sickly Tamae Hoskoawa Chikako) are in debt to Kin, and the fourth, Nobu (Sawaura Sonosuke), is running a small bar in property owned by Kin. Nobu (a character not the focus of any of the three Hayashi stories) lives with a husband and seems more content with her lot than the other three

Children, thus, are as unreliable as geisha patrons. None of the four women is happy, though the one making some money betting on bicycle races and playing Pachinko (I don’t know how anyone can turn a profit from the latter and the movie provides no enlightenment or any portrayal of playing it.) Tame works as a chambermaid, but is frequently incapacitated with migraines.

Though not holding any shot for very long, the camera never moves within a shot, interior or exterios (in contrast to the fluid camerawork of Mizoguchi and early Kurosawa). Saitô Ichirô’s music is innocuous, minimalist Japanese.

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Though the movie has its admirers (Dennis Schwartz considers it “emotionally gripping” and Keith Uhlich lauded it as “a film of unbridled riches.” I find it drab and boring and not showing much of interest about Japanese attempts to deal with either the war crimes or the devastation of firebombing (and nuclear weapon bombing) visited on Japan. Nor is there much in the way of female solidarity to celebrate. The movie was made after the end of US Occupation and censorship of the Japanese movie industry.

©2016, Stephen O. Muray