Ozu Yasujiro (小津 安二郎) is one of the greatest Japanese film directors of all time. It saddens me that many of my Japanese friends have not seen his films, not even the internationally acclaimed Tokyo Story, 1953 ( 東京物語). I spent hundreds of hours watching and analysing his films at Uni, so when I saw that Yamada Yoji (山田 洋次) had done a modern take on Tokyo Story, I was naturally very curious. To be honest, I had no idea Tokyo Family 2013 (東京家族), was a remake before I watched the film and I am glad I waited until afterward to see what others had said about it.
It would seem that many reviewers thought Tokyo Family was a flop. I never think it’s a good idea to compare originals to remakes, as it doesn’t allow the new film to be judged on its own merits. That said, I’m torn as to how I feel about the film, regardless of it being an homage to Ozu or not. Yamada adds Ozu-esque touches, such as long takes, where the camera rarely moves; using head-and-shoulder shots of characters looking and speaking directly at the camera; or low-angle shots of two characters sitting side by side, but something seems mismatched or not entirely fluid. The shots of the elderly couple and the shots of their youngest son and his girlfriend — Japan’s past and Japan’s future — don’t seem to flow very well together. It almost feels like the various scenes are from two different films slapped together.
The story varies slightly to reflect the uncertainties of Japan, post 3/11. But the mentions of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami are so fleeting and serve only to superficially bring us into the present that it comes across as an afterthought and therefore, rather insincere. The taxi scene where the driver navigates the elderly couple through the suburbs of Tokyo via GPS works well but the rest doesn’t seem to work for me. Perhaps Yamada does this intentionally, as his focus is on conveying that despite changing times, some things still remain the same. Children will always be too busy for their elderly parents until it’s too late.
So where do I stand with Tokyo Family? Despite my criticisms, I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy the film. I blubbered away despite knowing how the film would end — it’s sad to lose a loved one, especially a mum so sweet, no matter what times we live in. All in all, I would recommend the film, if not only so that you will want to learn more about Ozu and because I absolutely adore Tsumabuki Satoshi (妻夫木聡). And being that I seem to be drawn to period dramas these days (still struggling to cope with having to wait an eternity for the return of Downton Abbey and Mr. Selfridge) I am also keen to see Yamada Yoji’s newest film, The Little House 2014 (小さいおうち) in the hopes that we’ll get to see some of Yamada’s own unique style, and because I’m a huge fan of Matsu Takako (松たか子).