Yasujiro Ozu is a master of cinema. Late Spring is one of the most mesmerizing films I have seen to date, and should not have been surprised to watch his film Tokyo Story surpass it. He is perhaps the only director who can take the most tragic and heart wrenching parts of modernity and show it so poetically. Furthermore, Ozu calls upon his ethereal muse Setsuko Hara to deliver a brilliantly acted performance. It is a Japanese epic that rivals Kurosawa head-on.
The film follows an aging couple as they visit their children and their widowed daughter-in-law in hopes of reconnecting with them after years of geographic separation. What unfolds is a reflection of the divisions between a traditional Japan and the new modern, capitalist world of Japan following World War II. The children see their parents as a burden passing them off between each other in hopes that they can continue prospering economically. The grandchildren are so indifferent to tradition that they flat out ignore their grandparents running out of the room at the earliest convenience. Tragically, it is only their daughter-in-law Norkio (Setsuko Hara) who helps the elderly couple because she proves to be not only faithful to her deceased husband, but to tradition as well. Even in the face of their mothers death the children avoid staying to console their father, and instead concern themselves with accruing the belongings of their now gone mother. In the end the film leaves the viewers to accept the tragedies of modern Japan and in a spout of nihilism posits that the elderly of Japan will die lonely and ignored by progressive technologies.
The key to Ozu's beauty is his composition. Ozu, along with cinematographer Yuhara Atsuta, create a world of symmetry and voyeurism. Each shot is carefully composed to be long, often showing the intimate workings of daily Japanese life. At times the film feels more like a theater piece than cinema, given that each shot is clearly staged and actors often deliver their lines directly into the camera. Despite the very controlled filming style, the film's beauty is inescapable. Shadows often appear in moments of sadness, and when the scene involving the grandmother confiding in her grandson about her own despair is shot in a soft-focus that adds to is already wrenching feel. It is a story about breaking stalwart traditions with modern technology and Ozu carefully films in a way to remind viewers that the two worlds can theoretically exist, it just involves many more Noriko's to prove successful.
I should note that this is my first of what I hope to be many Criterion reviews. I suggest checking this film out along with many of Ozu's other films in the collection. Here is a direct link for Tokyo Story, which is also available to watch instantly on Netflix.