Yasujirô Ozu’s Tokyo Story from 1953, now available in a superbly packaged Blu-ray edition from Criterion, is a film that subtly captures the dynamics of family life in ways that feel stunningly real. There are moments here of such immediacy and personal truth that it seems impossible for Tokyo Story to be a relic of a bygone age and culture. Yet, due to Ozu’s masterful – one could say otherworldly – powers of observation, this sixty year old glimpse into the everyday lives of the Hirayama family presents the human condition with a universality that still rings true in 2013.
Tokyo Story is the final installment of what film scholars call The Noriko Trilogy; three films Ozu made shortly after WWII that feature a female character named Noriko, played by the charismatic Setsuko Hara. However, the films are not narratively continuous and, in fact, Noriko is a different woman, with different circumstances and conflicts, in each picture. Yet the films are tied together by similar themes of quaint family traditions versus the forces of modernity that seek to undo those traditions. The people of Japan may have been traumatized by atom bombs, but in Ozu’s delicate vision, the corporate world and early forms of feminism have wrought the most enduring changes to his nation’s social fabric.