Tokyo Family (2013)

Director:  Yoji Yamada
Cast:  Yû AoiSatoshi TsumabukiYui Natsukawa, Isao Hashizume
Plot:  An old married couple Shukichi Hirayama and Tomiko live on a small island in the Inland Sea. They go to Tokyo to visit their children.

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  -
Runtime:  146min
Rating:  PG

Yoji Yamada was an assistant to the late Yasujiro Ozu when the latter made Tokyo Story (1953), the film that has now achieved a synonymic relationship with the legendary director of numerous masterpieces such as Late Spring (1949), Floating Weeds (1959) and An Autumn Afternoon (1962), among many others. 

Tokyo Family, largely a direct homage to Ozu's timeless classic, is an excellent film, a solid contemporary update on a universal, humanist screen text that continues to resonate with those introspective enough to realize the hard truths embedded within it.  Now or back then, there is no particular difference – the narrative of the source material still translates well across a new architectural space and time.

On its own, Tokyo Family is an accomplished drama, albeit slightly lengthy.  It is a full ten minutes longer than Ozu’s work, but that does not make it any less engaging.  Yamada takes his time to develop the characters, and while there is a sense of familiarity, there is also a feeling of strangeness.  The strangeness of witnessing the narrative unfold with a kind of inevitability in a new setting, at least for those who have seen Tokyo Story

There are references to the modern calamities Japan has faced in recent years, both natural and man-made, making Yamada’s film immediately relevant and especially hard-hitting in scenes of Shukichi (the grandfather played by Isao Hashizume) drinking in the sake bar with a companion, and when he pays tribute to an old friend who has passed.

It appears that nothing has changed between a post-war Japan undergoing industrialization in the 1950s and the Japan that is today.  Issues of the erosion of inter-generational ties, the struggles to survive in an (already) modernized society, and a fatalistic resignation towards life remain pertinent in Tokyo Family

It is appropriately emotional, and for some, a tear-jerker in the vein of the melodramatic Oscar-winning Departures (2008) and also a number of Yamada’s recent family-oriented works including Kabei: Our Mother (2008) and About Her Brother (2010).  The music by the great Joe Hisaishi underscores the emotions with a balance of subtlety and restrain, a startling contrast to what he did for Departures, which overwhelmed (and sometimes manipulated) the viewer.

Tokyo Family is recommended viewing for all.  While it cannot be compared to the incomparable Tokyo Story, just like if there ever was a remake of Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) or 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), it will always be in the shadow of Leone’s and Kubrick’s works respectively, Yamada’s ode to Ozu is ultimately reverent and genuine.  It is also with hope that viewers who have not seen any of Ozu’s films will be encouraged to do so… and be forever enlightened.

Verdict:  Yoji Yamada does no wrong paying direct homage to Ozu's masterpiece in this solid contemporary update.


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