Tokyo Story [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (19th July 2020).
The Film

"Tokyo Story" (1953)

Shukichi and Tomi Hirayama (played by Chishu Ryu and Chieko Higashiyama) are an elderly couple from the seaside town of Onomichi visiting their grown children living in urban Tokyo. His eldest son Koichi (played by So Yamamura) is a physician who spends a lot of time on call for emergencies is having trouble making time for his parents. Their eldest daughter Shige (played by Haruko Sugimura) runs a hair salon and along with her busy schedule has trouble making time for them as well. The only person who is willing to take time for their visit is Noriko (played by Setsuko Hara), the young widow of their second son Shoji, doing whatever she can to help them with their visit including taking them on tourist buses and even letting Tomi sleep at her place when necessary. But when Tomi suddenly starts feeling dizzy and ill, everyone realizes possibly too late that their time together as a full family is very limited.

Director Yasujiro Ozu's 46th feature film as a director is easily his best known work both in Japan and internationally, and has frequently been cited on various lists of greatest films throughout the years. Ozu and screenwriter Kogo Noda wrote the script at an inn during a lengthy 103 day period, revisiting many themes that the two had already focused on in the past - generational conflict, issues with relationships in the family, sickness and health, traditional obligations, and the changing social times. The basic plot of elderly parents visiting their children but have no time to spend it together is based on the 1939 film "Make Way for Tomorrow" which Noda had seen but Ozu hadn't. Like that film, the scenario would focus on the present day, therefore elements of the postwar period of Japan would be included in a few portions. The drunken Shukichi and his friends talking about the terrible nature of war and how they never want to live through it again - both in service or as civilians. The widowed Noriko is directly a result of the war. She may not have any ties with blood to the Hirayama family, but she is faced with filial piety and a sense of strong tradition to keep the relationship. As with most of Ozu's scripts the details were very precise, with actors having to stick directly to the script in both dialogue and blocking in the very controlled environments. The dialogue can seem quite stilted and unnatural in many sections but they are exacting and to the point. There are no instances of overlapping dialogue, no filler, and no mistakes. All of these aspects were certainly an Ozu style in writing and performing, and for those familiar with Ozu's other works, it should come as no stylistic surprise. For some, Ozu's pacing might be considered slow, and "Tokyo Story" is no different, with the deliberately quiet pacing of happening to play out in real time rather than crunching in fast dialogue or fast outcomes. Another aspect that may make the film slower than it should is the way Ozu shoots the production. The camera almost never moves, keeping a very low angle shot for the entire film and having very few instances of camera movement. The camera is locked and the framing is just as calculated as the wordplay. While it may seem like Ozu just places the camera in place and has the actors do their work, the framing of the characters, the placement of objects, and the use of space is very strict. From where bottle are placed, decorations on walls, the placement of slippers, the amount that doors would be slid open were all as precise as can be in the constructed setpieces at the Shochiku Ofuna Studios. On first viewing it may not seem like much to see where a table is placed or how much the doors are open, but when characters move from house to house over a period of time, it makes clear of the location subconsciously for audiences, and it is very effective in the black and white film. In addition, returning locations become instantly familiar with the angles and the placement of materials. On first viewing all of these points will look invisible, as if the filmmakers just placed the camera wherever and let the actors perform. But just like the best special effects and CGI, the ones that audience don't notice are the most effective ones - things that look so natural one takes it for granted.

The fascination with "Tokyo Story" among audiences and critics is not about the flair as there basically is none, but about the characters and the relationships between each. Every character in the film has a distinct personality and they have unique relationships even if they are one family. The retired Shukichi seems like a gentle soul as a father and grandfather, but the drunken night out with his old friends, it does become clear that he had a drinking problem in the past and there was a reason of his long sobriety. How it affected his family in the past is left to one's thoughts, but seeing his daughter Shige's reaction to the bumbling father being returned home by a police officer, it's obviously not the first time this had happened. Tomi even talks about her husband’s attitude when a bottle was not in front of him many years ago, and though they may laugh it off in discussion, the issue of alcohol abuse is a serious manner, and not just one for comedic fun with the drunken father coming home scene. Chishu Ryu played in almost every Ozu film, from bit player in the early silent days to leading roles in the later ones. Interestingly he was 48 when he played the character of Shukichi who was in his late 60s. Not only with make-up and dyed hair, but his cadence in speaking and in movement made him extremely convincing as an elderly man. Also of interest, he also played a man much older than his actual age in Ozu's "Late Spring" in 1949 as Setsuko Hara's character's father, and in Ozu's "Early Summer" in 1951, he was made younger to play Setsuko Hara's character's older brother. Interestingly Hara is named "Noriko" in all three films (commonly referred to "The Noriko Trilogy") though she is a different character in all three films. With the character of Noriko in "Tokyo Story" it is often cited that she is the saintly character and model of the most perfect yet most unfortunate character of all. She has all the qualities of perfection - she is stunningly beautiful, incredibly caring, and is never one to complain about any problems that may arise. She is the perfect daughter-in-law for any family, but is in a very unfortunate state of being a young widow. Even though Tomi tells her that remarrying and continuing in her own life rather than being stuck in the family as a widow, Noriko is very certain of her place in the family, keeping the spirit of her husband alive and being a positive soul. What is not often discussed is her relationship with her own family who are never seen. Was the relationship between her own family as positive as it was with the Hirayama family? Did she come from a broken home and therefore not wanting to return to her family? Tomi is the quintessential Japanese "Obaachan" (grandmother) in her demeanor, her tone, her gentle ways to everyone around her. She never complains about the children not having enough time for them, she smiles no matter what. She may be the one character that truly understands the preciousness of life, as the monologue she has when talking to grandson Isamu, saying if she would be around when young Isamu grows up. There are instances in the film showing Tomi having some minor health issues, and she must have known from possible yellow flags from prior. Not only are the characters interesting to see with what is offered on screen, but there is much left to the viewer's thoughts to fill in the blanks. Rather than relying on quirkiness for memorable characters, Ozu and Noda rely on characters being down to earth people. Any viewer from any country are able to see their own imperfect family within the characters of "Tokyo Story". Culturally the film is centered in Japan, but relationships between family members are universal.

"Tokyo Story" places importance of family and the time spent with each other. When death strikes in the story, it is not a prolonged process like cancer treatment for many years. It's not a sudden accident either. When the inevitable happens in the film, some of the more stubborn faces like the eldest daughter Shige is brought to tears. She may have been cold hearted and bitchy (and brilliantly played by Haruko Sugimura) but there was more than just toughness to her crusty shell. It's almost if not just as heartbreaking as the scene in which Grumpy sheds a tear at the end of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs". What is also great about "Tokyo Story" is the amount of laughter the film brings. From scenes between the grandchildren interacting and being bratty, the children making fun of Tomi's weight, the aforementioned drunken scene all give laughs most welcoming and in high spirits. Ozu made various comedies since the silent era and even in his family dramas there were always scenes of laughter slid in between the serious scenes, and "Tokyo Story" had some of the best in his lengthy career.

Released in Japan theatrically on November 3rd, 1953, "Tokyo Story" was another hit critically and commercially for Ozu. It was ranked second best Japanese film by Kinema Junpo, and was the eight highest grossing film in Japan that year. Though Ozu's status was a filmmaker was very well respected by critics and his peers during his time in Japan, none of his films received theatrical screenings internationally until after his death in 1963. Though there were sporadic screenings, it wasn't until decades later that filmmakers such as Paul Schrader and Wim Wenders would be able to champion the quiet filmmaker's works. There have been many inspired filmmakers and imitators throughout the years that have tried to mimic his artistry from around the world. Whether it is the precise filming of objects in between scenes, the characters looking straight into the camera during dialogue scenes, or deliberately slow pacing to mimic life itself, it's hard to find any filmmaker that was not inspired by Ozu. As for "Tokyo Story" which was originally inspired by another film, it has in turn been an inspiration for many other films around the world. "Tokyo Family" (2013) by director Yoji Yamada was a direct remake of the story featuring the same names and characters for the most part, but made in the post 3/11 Japan and some changes to a few characters. "Everybody's Fine" (1990) by director Giuseppe Tornatore had Marcello Mastroianni as an elderly man visiting his grown children, all too busy for quality time together. "Still Walking" (2008) by director Hirokazu Koreeda instead had the children and grandchildren visiting the grandparents for the summer, and also having the subplot of a dead elder son. Though they have been made years apart, the definition of family remains the same, and no matter where an audience member is from, the same emotional responses would be felt. Ozu perfected it with the construction of "Tokyo Story" with the humanity and giving it simplicity. There is simply no argument that it is one of the greatest films ever made, if not the greatest in some publications. Kinema Junpo named it the best Japanese film of all time in 1995 and again in 2009. The most recent Sight and Sound critics poll in 2012 voted it the greatest film of all time.

"Tokyo Story" has had a complex life on home video. The original negative was one of the casualties in a fire that broke out in Yokohama in 1960. A 16mm duplicate negative was the best available element which then a 35mm safety negative was made from blow-up. Home video releases from the 1980s onward were made from this element. A high definition transfer was done in the early 2000s, and though the film looked better there were many scratches and marks throughout the image, even though much had been cleaned up digitally. In 2010, the BFI gave "Tokyo Story" its first Blu-ray release worldwide from the high definition master. In 2011, a 4K restoration was completed by IMAGICA and Shochiku Films for their upcoming Ozu retrospective and their own Blu-ray release. The Japanese Blu-ray from Shochiku was released in 2013 and it was a flawed one. While the restoration looked great, the image had an odd sepiatone tint throughout, not truly being black and white. For the US Blu-ray release from Criterion the same year, the same 4K master was used but the tint was not present, giving a true black and white image. With the film being the first major Ozu restoration by Shochiku and better technology becoming available over the following years, the restoration went a step further in 2017 with additional cleanup and stabilization to coincide with other restorations of Ozu classics in theaters. Interestingly this 2017 restoration of "Tokyo Story" was not released on Blu-ray in Japan. Carlotta Films in France was the first to utilize the 2017 4K restoration on home video in their Blu-ray boxset of "Ozu en 20 Films". The BFI has taken the opportunity to also use the 2017 4K restoration for their new Blu-ray reissue in 2020.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray

Video

The BFI present the film in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. As stated, the original negative was lost in a fire, and the 16mm internegative was the closest available element. A 35mm interpositive was made from the internegative and that element was used for the 4K restoration by IMAGICA Corp. and Shochiku. The digital restoration stabilized the image completely, removed major damage marks such as cuts, scratches, debris, and other anomalies, and the results are breathtaking. Details in the backgrounds and foregrounds are very clear with grey levels being very well balanced, there are very little if any damage seen on screen. Much of the film grain has been removed but there is still some to be seen. There are no digital enhancements seen and is in turn a miracle the film could look this nice considering its history.

But how does it compare to the 2011 restoration? I saw the 2011 restoration back in 2011 at the Tokyo International Film Festival and it looked stunning. The Criterion Blu-ray from two years later looked just as impressive as I remembered. But when comparing the 2017 restoration from the BFI Blu-ray and the French Carlotta Blu-ray side by side with the 2011 restoration in motion, the differences are very apparent. The older restoration still has some visible damage in the image. There is some grey level fluctuation that is very noticeable on solid backgrounds. The image also looks wobbly in some points. All of these points have been digitally corrected further in the 2017 restoration. "Tokyo Story" getting two 4K restorations by the same teams (a collaboration between IMAGICA and Shochiku) might seem like overkill considering the number of other films that have not received any restoration, but the differences here are quite noticeable.

The film has a runtime of 136:13, which includes some restoration text at the beginning of the film (rather than restoration credits at the end of the film for the 2011 restoration).

Audio

Japanese LPCM 1.0
The original Japanese mono audio is presented in an uncompressed format. Like the image, the sound was restored from the original elements, removing hiss, pops, crackle, buzz, and other problematic issues. The sound basically sounds identical to the 2011 restoration and that is a good thing. Dialogue is clear and well balanced. The music can sound a little fuzzy at points due to fidelity issues and the original elements. Again, considering the elements and the source material, it does sound fine as it is.

There are optional English subtitles in a white font for the feature. The Anglicized translation is obviously different from the US Criterion release, and they are well timed and easy to read. Though there is one instance of a translation error. When Koichi introduces his older son Minoru, he says that he is a "primary school" student but this is incorrect as the Japanese dialogue clearly says 中学生, which would be secondary school/junior high school. The Criterion subtitles state "junior high school", which is accurate. Minoru is later seen studying English, which was added to the junior high curriculum in Japan after the end of the war, and therefore it's clear he is not a primary/elementary school student. Besides this one minor gaffe, the subtitles are translated fine.

Extras

“The Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family” (104:41)
Presented as a bonus film, Ozu's 1941 feature shares its similarities to "Tokyo Story" with a family and their issues dealing with the death of a parent and the aftermath. Following the death of the well off Toda family father (played by Hideo Fujino), the mother (played by Ayako Katsuragi) is left with a sizeable debt that takes a toll on the rest of the family, including the adult children that suddenly are thrust in with a terrible responsibility. Rather than similarities it is interesting to compare the story of the Todas with the Hirayamas and their differences. In "Toda", death comes at the start of the film while in "Tokyo Story" it is near the end. The grandchildren are bratty in "Tokyo Story" but the Toda grandchild is wanting to have fun with everyone even in troubling times. The relationship between the siblings fall apart further in the Toda family while there is a glimpse of becoming closer as a family in "Tokyo Story". There is less humor in "Toda", as it is a more serious subject matter, but it is stamped with Ozu trademarks in the style and the family theme, and was a strong critical hit for the director, named Best Film by Kinema Junpo in 1942. Though the film is presented in 1080p on this disc, making this the worldwide Blu-ray debut for the title, it is sadly an upscale of a standard definition master from Shochiku. "Toda" has not received an HD remaster as of yet and this is the best available version at this point in time. Fortunately the picture is not too bad, as some damage has been digitally cleaned. The sound on the other hand is not very good, with muffled noise, buzzing, pops and crackle are noticeable and affecting the clarity.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in Japanese Dolby Digital 1.0 with optional English subtitles

"An Introduction to Tokyo Story" by Tony Rayns (26:17)
In this newly made introduction, film critic Tony Rayns gives a discussion about "Tokyo Story" and its place in Ozu's filmography, the connections to "Make Way for Tomorrow" and other Ozu films, the director's style, some behind the scenes information but trying not to give away too many spoilers for the first timers. It may be an introduction to the film, but it is probably better to watch after the film rather than before.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"Talking with Ozu" 1993 documentary - shorter version (40:26)
To commemorate the 90th anniversary of Ozu's birth, Shochiku commissioned a documentary featuring filmmakers from around the world discussing about Ozu's works and how they made an impact on film language and on their own films respectively. Interviewed for the documentary are Stanley Kwan, Aki Kaurismäki, Claire Denis, Lindsay Anderson, Paul Schrader, Wim Wenders, and Hou Hsiao-hsien alongside clips and stills of Ozu's works. For most they are talking to the camera or interviewer, but Kaurismäki's interview comes as the most unique, as he talks directly to a photograph of Ozu giving his memories and his awe as if talking to Ozu in person. This documentary was shown at various festivals in 1993 and later released on VHS in Japan the same year. While the festival cut ran at 80 minutes, the VHS version was shortened by half to 40 minutes, removing some portions of the interviews and removing some Ozu film clips. In addition, the order of the interviews had been restructured. On many sites including Allcinema and JMDB only list the 40 minute version. (I recently made a submission to IMDB to including information on the longer theatrical cut, and it has now been updated.) Carlotta Films in France was able to release the full length version on Blu-ray and DVD. The BFI, like Criterion in the US before, was not able to license the full length version from Shochiku for some reason and only the shortened version with burned-in subtitles is available here.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in various languages Dolby Digital 1.0 with optional subtitles English subtitles for the non-English portions and burned-in Japanese subtitles

"Furnival and Son" 1948 short (18:41)
In this UK government sponsored short film made in Sheffield in the postwar period, it is a narrated documentary short about the steel industry with an added fiction element with a family and their ordeals. The only credited staff on the short is director Denis Segaller and composer Elizabeth Lutyens, with no credits for the other crew or for the starring cast. The short has nothing at all in relation to "Tokyo Story", though there may be a thin common thread in family and life in the post war environment, even if in different countries and continents.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 1.0 with no subtitles

Image Gallery (2:50)
A gallery with on set stills are presented here in a silent slideshow
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4


Booklet
A 24 page booklet is included in the first pressing. First is the essay "A Family in Crisis" by critic Joan Mellen, as she discusses about both "The Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family" and "Tokyo Story", including their differences and similarities. Next is an appreciation of the film by filmmaker Lindsay Anderson first published in Sight and Sound. Next are full cast and credits listings for both films, a biography of Ozu by Tony Rayns. NFT programmer John Gillett's notes on a 1957 screening of "Tokyo Story" is also included, which not only praises the film but also describes a divide between audiences. Last, there are special features credits, notes on the transfers, acknowledgements, and stills.


Though the BFI has put together a nice selection of extras, it can hardly be called "definitive". The "Voyage in Cinema" featurette that Shochiku produced on the making of "Tokyo Story" (included on the Ozu Volume 1 DVD boxset on the bonus disc in Japan and on the French DVD and Blu-ray from France is lacking. The theatrical trailer is also conspicuously missing. The US Criterion DVD and Blu-ray has an exclusive commentary by David Desser and the Japanese Blu-ray has one by actor Chishu Ryu, assistant camera operator Takashi Kawamata, assistant director Buichi Saito, and film critic Yoshio Shirai. There really is no single definitive edition of "Tokyo Story" in the extras department, but the BFI reissue does improve upon the older dual format Blu-ray+DVD set, which only had the two films ("The Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family" being on the DVD only with a similar booklet, with no other extras.

The BFI uploaded a short clip of the film on YouTube to promote the Blu-ray reissue release, but note the clip is from the older master used for the older 2010 Blu-ray and does not reflect the quality of the new Blu-ray.


The BFI uploaded the original trailer on YouTube a few years ago for "Tokyo Story" which strangely has not been included on this Blu-ray edition.


Critic Mark Kermode made a short introduction for the film for the BFI Player and can be seen here.

Overall

"Tokyo Story" is without argument one of the greatest films ever made. Heartwarming as it is heartbreaking, it gives an equal amount of chuckles as it does the amount of tears. Even after multiple watches, the precision craftsmanship of Ozu with the minute details seen in the frame and the characteristics of each performer are evident, making it an essential factor for studying filmmaking. The BFI's reissue Blu-ray features an excellent updated 4K restoration transfer and a good amount of extras. Absolutely recommended.

The Film: A+ Video: A Audio: B Extras: B Overall: A-

 


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