Ozu was more firmly rooted in the twentieth century than any other Japanese director: his films do not rely on exotic historical spectacle, elaborate costumes, or tales of honor and conquest. He was also the filmmaker most committed to the traditional values of institutions such as the family. There is no exoticism in Tokyo Story, no sweeping action, no horses, and no historical reenactments, only people, but the viewer is compensated by the intensity of feeling that Ozu’s domestic dramas engender and by the sincerity of their message.
In Tokyo Story, people sit around drinking green tea; they sit at noodle bars; they sit in offices. Ozu’s contemplative camera hardly ever moves, and his actors seldom emote. The understated performances of the well-matched actors complement the serenity of Ozu’s atmosphere and the sparseness of his naturalistic dialogue. The film explores family dynamics and the conflict of the traditional versus the contemporary through an aging couple’s visit to their adult children in the city. Although Tokyo Story is about tangible loss, its radiant spirituality transcends death.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)