film

Old School Review: “Tokyo Story” (1953)

Written by Kôgo Noda and Yasujiro Ozu, and directed by Ozu, “Tokyo Story” is seemingly a simple family drama about an older couple traveling to visit their children and grandchildren in Tokyo. At first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking such of an arthouse film, but you’d be wrong in this case. In essence that is the skeleton of the film, yes, but beneath the initial layer lies a story about family and how time can erode once strong connections. It is about how parents can lose their place in their family’s hierarchy. How work and modernization can manipulate and destroy family in subtle ways. Mostly though, it is about the bittersweet heartbreak of growing old and losing touch with those closest to you.

When Shukichi (Chishu Ryu), the grandfather, and Tomi (Chiyeko Higashiyama) the grandmother, arrive in Tokyo they’re welcomed by a busy family. They spend the first few days with their oldest son Koichi (So Yamamura) a doctor in a small local clinic. He is married to Fumiko (Kuniko Miyake), and they have two sons. After meeting their grandchildren and hanging out about the house (Not many adults have the time away from work to take them sightseeing) they head to Koichi’s sister, Shige’s (Haruko Sugimura) home. Shige is also married and runs a beauty salon in the first floor of their abode. The family members mean well, and make several attempts to entertain their elders, sightseeing some and buying them treats (though Shige protests at her husband for buying such expensive cakes- they eat most of them before presenting the gift). At a lack of finding things for Shukichi and Tomi to do the married couples recruit Noriko (Setsuko Hara) their widowed daughter-in-law who hasn’t yet remarried since the war. Noriko is more than happy to help, even though she isn’t a blood relative and has the least stature among the adult children of Shukichi and Tomi.

They try not to burden any of the family while they are in Tokyo, but it becomes clear after some time that they are simply too busy to accommodate them. After a failed trip to a resort spa outside of Tokyo, paid for by Shige’s family, Shukichi and Tomi decide to head home. They linger about for a bit, trying not to offend anyone for having left the spa early, which isn’t why they came to Tokyo in the first place. After a night out with Shkichi’s old village friends now residing in Tokyo, and Tomi having a profound evening with Noriko- they depart for home. Shortly after having returned home, Tomi falls gravely ill and the children begin to make the journey home for their dying mother. It is a beautiful and tragic sequence of scenes for the last half hour of the film, Shukichi veiling his grief with blank expressions and the children all commingling their grief and true feelings about their parents- it’s a lot, and if you can make it through the end with dry eyes, I honestly don’t know what would move you to tears in cinema.

The story, however, is only one slice of what makes this film so memorable and potent. Yasujiro Ozu’s technique behind the camera accounts for much of the dreamlike quality of the film. His cinematography and framing choices seem unique in how he utilizes them. He doesn’t always adhere to the eyeline rule, characters can seem as if they aren’t looking at each other as they speak, but he cares not. His style doesn’t sacrifice spacial or auditory understanding in the least, it enhances it. Ozu often frames two people sitting side by side, facing away from the camera, which gives the audience an almost ghostly viewpoint of the dialogue. It’s in this pairing of those faraway, unconcerned, shots of conversation with his low angle mid-shots of the actors directly facing the camera that Ozu’s style emerges as one both heavily invested in what his characters have to say, but also of the world they inhabit. Many scenes are bookended with “pillow shots” (relating to a similar technique in Japanese poetry); beautiful compositions of elaborate cityscapes, simple architecture, trains chugging along, or boats cruising along the coast in the background that bind the characters to their place and time so beautifully.

Inherently relatable and elegantly true to life, “Tokyo Story” was a joy to discover. I cannot recommend it enough, I found it (as with most older films lately) on the Criterion Channel, and with it a new filmography to plumb. Test new waters, take a chance and maybe you’ll find a new favorite film or filmmaker, I know I have.

Final Score: 4 adult children, 2 grandchildren, and 1 heartbroken old man..

*To further inform you on the humble perfection of this film, I’ve linked Roger Ebert’s review of the film below:

https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-tokyo-story-1953

Advertisements
film

Old School Review: “Sanjuro” (1962)

Written by Ryuzo Kikushima, Hideo Oguni, and Akira Kurosawa and directed by Kurosawa, “Sanjuro” is the sequel to Kurosawa’s earlier Samurai Ronin feature “Yojimbo” also starring Toshiro Mifune in the lead role. After “Yojimbo”‘s success Kurosawa’s producers pushed him to craft a sequel to the wandering Samurai’s debut. “Sanjuro” is a lighter affair than the first film, often playing off of well established expectations within the sub-genre so often associated with the Kurosawa ‘Western‘ Samurai flick. When asked for a name, the Ronin simply observes his surroundings and gives a random title (Sanjuro) just as he did in “Yojimbo”, seemingly only to appease whoever asked.

We’re quickly introduced to a group of young Samurai in a clan trying to rescue their uncle (Yûnosuke Itô) from the corrupt Superintendent of the clan. Luckily for them they stumble upon the disheveled and aloof Sanjuro who overhears their opening assessment of the clan’s situation, he chooses to interject, and tell them how wrong he thinks they are about the facts of the matter. “Sanjuro” has an excellent balance that keeps the film’s tension intact, and the scenes investing, even though the base story is fairly simple overall. As the nine young Samurai keep switching back and forth from trusting Sanjuro to being skeptical of his intent throughout the film, the dynamism of the large cast keeps the momentum high throughout the film. There’s also the fact that at any given moment Mifune can overshadow an entire screen filled with dozens of people and then disappear into the background within seconds if needed.

With the deft hand of Kurosawa behind the camera the simplicity of the story bleeds into the background of consciousness. Every cut, every use of movement onscreen, and every choice regarding spatial design keeps the seams of the theater curtain from tearing and revealing the secrets behind the illusion of film-making. For having a core cast of ten characters, solely regarding the protagonists, Kurosawa layers the space with them masterfully. He knows how to fill the field visually and uses the geometry of blocking to great effect in every scene, not to mention the ingenious camera movements that clue the audience in on story elements with ease. Most of the film takes place with Sanjuro and the rebel Samurais planning out how they will rescue their uncle and his wife (Takako Irie) and daughter (Reiko Dan). When Sanjuro’s clever conniving fails due to the rebel Samaurais’ incompetence, he finally resorts to the sword. It’s a thing of beauty to watch Sanjuro take stock when he is strategically cornered and plainly frees his fellow Samurai in a room full of guards and then proceeds to slaughter the dozen or so opponents single-handedly.

If you’re looking for a fun Samurai flick but don’t necessarily want the self-seriousness ingrained within the genre, then “Sanjuro” is for you. The sequel is actually pretty funny, and there’s no greater on-screen Ronin than Toshiro Mifune! You can’t go wrong with this one, plus, the very end scene has one of the very best Samurai stand-offs in cinema history.

Final Score: 1 Ronin

film

Old School Review: The Battleship Potemkin (1925)

Written by Nina Agadzhanova and directed by Sergei M. Eisenstein “The Battleship Potemkin” is about a mutiny aboard the Russian battleship during the height of the Russian Revolution of 1905. It is also the first silent film I have reviewed on the blog thus far. This film is so infamous by this point that there is little I can add to the conversation other than regurgitating the film’s numerous technical achievements that so many others have touched upon. If you haven’t given the film a watch before and you’re invested in learning about the history of cinema then I encourage a viewing- especially since it’s only a brisk hour and fourteen minutes long. Otherwise most modern audiences will bore with the lack of dialogue and color, which can edge out one’s attention span, even I had to stay focused during my own viewing.

59cd211f15e9f96aa51f5725

The film begins with the Russian ship returning home through the Black Sea from the recent war with Japan. The crew inspect the meat to be used that day and stir the captains and officers to complain of its quality. The ship’s doctor is sought to inspect it and when the camera gets a closer inspection to show the meat squirming with maggots he labels the meat satisfactory. Mutinous boiling rage fills the crew and they refuse to eat. This act of defiance comes to a head as the captain and officers round up the crew asking who is dissatisfied with the food, when a portion stand their ground they are ordered to be shot dead. Vakulinchuk, the voice of the ship’s imminent revolution, shouts above the clamor as the officers raise their guns “Brothers! Who are you shooting at?” and thus the raucous mutiny begins. After the crew is victorious the battleship heads to the port of Odessa where the locals have heard of the uprising and feel connected to the hardships of the sailors as the lower classes of society were engaged in revolutionary war. This prompts a swift damnation by the Czar’s elite guard as they march down the steps of Odessa shooting into the crowd creating one of early film’s most infamous scenes.

94d5786f-9085-46b1-95fb-8a97ce1be329

 

After this the crew aboard the Potemkin engage in debate over what to do with the supportive citizenry. Eventually they decide to help and target several locations of importance to the Czar’s government and fire away. This calls the attention of a nearby fleet of unknown allegiance and the remainder of the film is brilliantly played for anxiety with the score and inter-cutting of scenes of preparation for battle on the Potemkin as they go to meet the fleet. In the end the Potemkin glides through the approaching ships’ guard unscathed as they realize that they too are revolutionaries in arms. In doing some light research on the film’s history and how it helped to shape cinema nearly a century ago I read Roger Ebert’s 1998 review and he was right. I had already seen the parody of the massacre on the Odessa Steps years before (ie The Untouchables) seeing the source material. In fact, I will post a link below to his review of the film, which is far more in depth and personal of a review than what I have experienced with Potemkin.

cuirasse-potemkine-2929936-jpg_2563697_660x281

What is most impressive about the film in my opinion is the use of space in the film. Granted this may have simply been a side effect from having masses of people represent groups and ideals over individualized ‘characters’, but its still years ahead of its time and is even today a bit of a wonder as to how they accomplished this in 1925. This paired with the sheer choreography of hundreds of extras milling about the Odessa Steps and aboard the Potemkin makes for good eye-catching movement. Especially aboard the Potemkin, where the sailors can mill above and below where the main action is focalized- the staging makes for layered movement and gives the impression that the warship is gigantic in scope requiring a village of people for upkeep. The score was also incredibly important here, as the only sound in the film it helps to engage the viewer in the intended feelings of the characters onscreen. The brash and overbearing clash of orchestral audio waves crash as the Czar’s men advance with their rifles drawn, the inherent sadness and grief at the useless killing is portrayed in weeping stringed symphonies, and the finale assuages the audience’s anxieties with triumphant and victorious horns. Altogether “The Battleship Potemkin” is an important piece of cinema’s history while the film’s history itself is also quite fascinating given how many governments across the globe banned it fearing Potemkin‘s call to arms aimed at the masses. If you’re at all invested in cinema’s history, this is one you should see.

 

Final Score: a Mutiny and a Slaughter

Roger Ebert’s 1998 review of “The Battleship Potemkin”:

https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-the-battleship-potemkin-1925