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The Criterion Collection presents
Tokyo Story (1953)

"If I had known things would come to this, I'd have been kinder to her."
- Shukichi (Chishu Ryu)

Review By: Matt Peterson  
Published: January 07, 2004

Stars: Chishu Ryu, Chieko Higashiyama, Setsuko Hara, Haruko Sugimura
Other Stars: Nobuo Nakamura, So Yamamura, Kuniko Miyake, Kyoko Kagawa, Eijiro Tono, Shiro Osaka, Zen Murase, Mitsuhiro Mori
Director: Yasujiro Ozu

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 02h:15m:49s
Release Date: October 28, 2003
UPC: 037429183922
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A+B-C+ A

DVD Review

A century after his birth, and forty years after his death, the films of Yasujiro Ozu continue to endure. Their subjects are universal. Considered by many to be the quintessential Japanese director, Ozu avoided the adventurous, mythical plots employed by his greatest competitor, Akira Kurosawa. Instead of the epic, Ozu was eternally fascinated by the intimate. His films are deep explorations of domestic and family life in Japan, depicted tenderly and thoughtfully through a stock company of superb actors, and simple storylines. For Ozu, Earth-shattering events did not come in the form of rain soaked sword battles, but by words and simple deeds that disrupted the fabric of normal, everyday life. His images do not dazzle the eye with extraordinary editing and telephoto lenses, but with simple, tatami level camera placement, contemplative pacing, 180-degree cuts, and minimal camera movement. This style is amazingly effective, creating a visually unique representation of space that not only accentuates the positions of the characters within, but their emotional relationships to one another

If Ozu's cinematic machine runs on intimate family drama, Tokyo Story(Tokyo monogatari) is its ultimate refinement. When Kurosawa's Rashomon was bringing Japanese film into the international limelight, the more Eastern-oriented Ozu remained in the background. Even though Ozu's film was made shortly after Kurosawa's landmark film, it did not premier in the United States until the early 1970s. Hailed by film fans and critics around the world, Tokyo Story was recently voted as the fifth greatest film ever made in Sight and Sound's 2002 poll. Through Ozu's trademark style, daily Japanese life, circa 1953, is meticulously captured. Ozu focuses on the details, such as a line of clothes fluttering in the wind, or a lone boat gliding down a glassy river. Paired with the stellar performances of Chishu Ryu, Setsuko Hara, and others, Tokyo Story is a film that transcends cultural and generational barriers.

It is a deceptively simple tale, with deep meaning and emotional layering throughout its meticulously framed scenes. Two elderly parents, Shukichi and Tomi, decide to visit their children in various parts of Tokyo. They sense their lives may be coming to a close, and this may be the last opportunity to see not only their offspring, but the world outside their humble home. When the parents arrive, they are greeted with the usual, obligatory pleasantries. However, before long, each respective child begins finding excuses to neglect them, and even send them away. Ironically enough, the only relative who properly honors this elderly couple is their daughter-in-law, Noriko, whose husband was killed in the final year of World War II. She lives in a humble, one room apartment, and even though Noriko has very little, she offers all she has. There is a very simple cut at one point in the film that perfectly captures the visual and thematic genius of Ozu: Noriko begins fanning her elderly parents-in-law; we then cut to a particularly selfish daughter, Shige, who sits, fanning herself, offering suggestions on where to send her parents (speaking from the false belief that she is actually helping them). This simple device communicates volumes, showing the true nature of each of these characters. After Shukichi and Tomi return home, a subsequent visit is made by their children, mistakes are realized, and farewells are exchanged.

Beneath the façade of a depiction of simplistic, daily life, Ozu has layered intense emotions, and multiple messages. As one character states, "none can serve [loved ones] beyond the grave." This is one of the primary messages of Tokyo Story. Not only do we need to cherish those we hold dear while they are still with us, but acting in service of fellow human beings, whether it be your parents, or a stranger you never met, is integral to a life lived well. Through self-sacrifice, one can truly know what it means to love, and be loved. Selfish ambitions can only get us so far. Kurosawa also focused on the importance of selflessness, but with very Western sensibilites. There is much more to be discovered in Ozu's masterpiece; through this intense, intimate tale of a single family, universal messages are conveyed, and life is captured. Films like this do not merely entertain, but they reveal truths of life. Isn't that what great art is all about?

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Criterion has done an admirable job cleaning up Ozu's masterwork, but the image quality suffers from the lack of quality elements. The high-definition, re-mastered transfer was taken directly from a new 35mm interpositive via a Spirit Datacine. Unfortunately, the original negative of Tokyo Story was destroyed long ago in a laboratory fire. As a result, striking a fresh print from the negative was not an option. The elements used were in relatively good shape, but the film tends to resemble a film from the 1930s, and not the 1950s. Detail is decent, but the transfer has quite a high contrast, reducing the grayscale, creating a picture with somewhat harsh blacks and whites. There is occasional shudder, but overall, the picture is quite stable. The MTI Digital Restoration System was implemented to remove further grain, dirt, and print damage. As a result, the print is relatively free of blemishes. Criterion did a superb job with the elements at hand—this is the best this film has ever looked on home video.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Once again, the quality of the elements is the determining factor. Re-mastered in 24-bit digital, the film's original mono soundtrack has been cleaned up, removing the most noticeable pops, clicks, hiss, and crackle. However, some hiss still persists. Dialogue, sound effects and musical score are relatively clear, but don't expect any great dynamic range. The soundtrack is rather flat, and certainly dated. Nevertheless, a fine restoration, considering the source.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 27 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by David Desser
Packaging: Double alpha
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. booklet with credits and an essay by David Bordwell
Extras Review: Criterion has assembled a fine package of extras for Tokyo Story, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Ozu's birth. Disc One contains a feature length audio commentary by Ozu film scholar David Desser. His comments are largely factual, examining Ozu's life, cinematic style, and the context of the film's events. This is an informative track, but not as engaging as some of Criterion's other contributors. This disc also contains the original theatrical trailer, the elements of which look worse than the feature. I recommend watching the trailer after the film, as it contains spoilers.

Disc Two offers a pair of superb, Japanese-produced documentaries. I Lived, But... is a two-hour exploration of the life and films of Ozu, featuring interviews with critics Donald Richie and Tadao Sato, actors Chishu Ryu and Mariko Okada, and others. This is a comprehensive look at Ozu's career, and a great introduction for those who are experiencing Ozu for the first time. The second is Talking With Ozu, a 40-minute piece that documents Ozu's influence on cinema around the world. The documentary takes us to various foreign locales (with some great photography) to listen to several filmmakers whose work has been deeply affected by Ozu. Interviews with Paul Schrader, Wim Wenders, Stanley Kwan, and others are a clear testament to the mastery of Ozu, and the enduring quality of his films. The audio/video quality of the documentaries is good, but Criterion admits it did no restoration work on these features, deciding to focus their resources on the film itself. A wise move.

Overall, these features provide the viewer with an exhaustive look at Ozu's work, life and influence.

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

Another first rate effort from Criterion. This superb, two-disc package sports an admirable transfer of a classic, undisputed masterpiece, and a plethora of quality extras. If you haven't yet experienced the power of Ozu's personal sensibilities, there is no better place to start. Highly recommended.


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