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Film review: Tokyo Family

Yvonne Teh

 

Starring: Isao Hashizume, Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Masahiko Nishimura, Tomoko Nakajima, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Yu Aoi
Director: Yoji Yamada
Category: I (Japanese)

 

With directing credits for films including a 48-film series about Tora-san the travelling salesman, and the Oscarnominated 2002 feature The Twilight Samurai (which won the Japanese Academy Award for best picture), Yoji Yamada is one of Japan’s most revered filmmakers.

But in the minds of some people, the veteran auteur, 81, may have overreached by inviting comparisons between his latest film and the great Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story.

Released 60 years after Ozu’s masterpiece, Tokyo Family has a similar story: an elderly couple journey from their home in rural Japan to visit their grown-up children in the capital, only to find that their children are too busy.

While Ozu’s drama was set in a period when Japanese people could envision a brighter future for themselves, Yamada’s film shows a country where even doctors cannot afford to live in a central part of Tokyo – and where scars from the 2011earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster are still fresh in the national psyche.

Tokyo Family is not intended as a carbon copy – and in many ways is a distinctively Yoji Yamada work.

Upon arriving in Tokyo, retired teacher Shukichi (Isao Hashizume) and his wife Tomoko (Kazuko Yoshiyuki) stay with their eldest son, Koichi (Masahiko Nishimura), and his family in suburbia.

Finding their doctor son too busy and duty-bound to make house calls even on his days off, the parents then move to the house of their daughter, beauty salon owner Shigeko (Tomoko Nakajima), and her husband. Again, the younger couple have little time to spare.

A reluctant hostess at best, Shigeko tells her parents within a few days that they will have to move out for at least an evening because there will be a late-night community meeting at her house.

While Shukichi complains about being left “homeless” and forced to spend a night at his friend’s place, gentle Tomoko happily heads to the bachelor’s pad of their youngest child, set designer Shuji (Satoshi Tsumabuku). There, she makes a pleasant discovery about a recent development in the son’s life.

A deceptively simple film with a few moments of high drama (but some of Yamada’s trademark slapstick), Tokyo Family unfolds in an unhurried fashion that may try some viewers’ patience.

However, those who are happy to go with this 146-minute-long work’s flow will be rewarded with a sensitive portrait of a contemporary Japanese family whose members’ actions are alternately loving, sad, amusing, thought-provoking and touching.

yvonne.teh@scmp.com

 

Tokyo Family opens April 18

 

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