Tokyo Family (2013)

– review of the film Tokyo Family (2013)
Tokyo Family (東京家族) is without a doubt one of the best Japanese movies I’ve seen in the last few months. The film is director Yamada Yoji’s (山田洋次) re-telling of and tribute to an earlier world cinema masterpiece, Yasujirō Ozu’s (小津安二郎) 1953 classic Tokyo Story (東京物語). Like it’s predecessor, it is the story that makes this such an incredible film. Hirayama, a retired school teacher and his playful but proper Japanese wife, Tomiko, visit their adult children in Tokyo. The couple first visit their eldest son, Koichi, at his clinic in suburban Tokyo. As a doctor he has to go on house-calls and spends very little time with his parents, and after an aborted trip to Yokohama, Hirayama and Tomiko go to visit their daughter, Shigeko, who is busy running a thriving beauty salon in the city. Meanwhile, Shuji, the youngest son, drives around in his beat up old Fiat doing odd jobs and freelancing.

Since they are very busy, Shigeko and Koichi agree to pitch in and send their parents to a fancy hotel in Yokohama for a few days. This turns out to be quite dull and the couple return a day early, only to be turned out by their daughter who is hosting a civic party of some kind. It’s at this point that Hirayama and Tomiko split up for a day, with Hirayama going to visit the deceased friend and Tomiko spending the night with their youngest son, Shuji, at his apartment. Hirayama winds up getting drunk with an old classmate (even though he’s sworn off alcohol for some time) and Tomiko is pleasantly surprised when she gets to meet Shuji’s fiancee, Noriko. As the youngest son, and something of a free spirit, Shuji’s siblings often complain that he has “been nothing but worry to us.” He is invariably late, holds no stable job, and can never manage his money properly. Still, when Shuji and his mother are together it’s clear that they share a deep bond and real companionship, something the other children clearly lack. However, Tomiko still makes Shuji promise to tell his father about Noriko, saying that “if he disapproves I will intervene and all will be well.”

The next day, back at Koichi’s house, Tomiko collapses on the stairs and falls unconscious. She is sent to the hospital where the whole family gathers, but she never wakes up. Hirayama and the whole family are crushed, but they all pull together and return to Hiroshima for their mother’s funeral. After one night the eternally busy Koichi and Shigeko need to depart for Tokyo, but Shuji and his girlfriend, Noriko, stay behind for a few days to keep Hirayama company. Finally, the day they are set to leave, the father takes Noriko aside and thanks her for taking care of his son, saying that he his grateful to her since he can now die knowing that she will be there for his son. He then gives her Tomiko’s wristwatch, which she wore and cherished for 30 years. On the ferry, having left their father behind on the island Noriko shows the watch to Shuji and tells him what his father said. Utter disbelief registers on his face, he gets excited, and keeps asking her, “my father? He said that?” Then finally a brief smile as he looks back at the island. THE END.

The above summary is too long, but I feel it’s necessary to retrace the steps of this touching film from beginning to end. It’s as if the narrative is deeply imbedded in the actors’ voices, gestures, and mannerisms and retelling it brings it all back. Also, many of the sets and interiors that the in the film have an emotional depth you rarely encounter in films these days–the apartments that Shigeko and Shuji live in really look like that person’s home and no one else’s. As a remake, Tokyo Family may fall short of its predecessor, Tokyo Monogatari, but Ozu’s film is a masterpiece that would be hard to improve on in any case. What’s most impressive is the brilliant acting, especially Kazuko Yoshiyuki in the loveable role of Tomiko and Satoshi Tsumabuki as the romantic loser Shuji.

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