Category: Reviews – DVD/Streaming

Image courtesy of The Criterion Collection.

(NOTE: A version of this article was published here.)

In the English-speaking world, Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story has normally been characterized as a family drama. Shortly after the film was first distributed in America in the ’70s, for instance, the critic Charles Michener described it as “a shattering, universal drama of family tensions.” Decades later, the general consensus remains that the film is primarily about “our families, our natures, our flaws and our clumsy search for love and meaning.” (To quote the late Roger Ebert.)

It’d be absurd to suggest that this view of Tokyo Story is wrong. The film’s central conflict, after all, revolves around how two Tokyo-based siblings – Koichi, a doctor; and Shige, a hairdresser – ignore and belittle their visiting parents, an elderly couple named Shukichi and Tomi. In an interview he gave about the film, moreover, Ozu himself noted that “through the growth of both parents and children, I described [in Tokyo Story] how the Japanese family system has begun to come apart.”

In emphasizing Tokyo Story’s family-related themes, however, critics have often neglected the film’s political dimension.

Reviews - DVD/Streaming

Image courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Everyone enjoys taking shortcuts. But that’s especially true for people who write about movies. As the very phrase “film criticism” implies, it’s much easier to write a review tearing a film apart than it is to write a review that explains why a film is good. Similarly, it’s easy to pan a film that doesn’t meet your initial expectations – and comparatively difficult to appraise a film that exposes you to a novel way of thinking.

For my third annual “Mea Culpa” piece (see the first two here and here), I found myself turning to two of my reviews that exemplify these bad practices.

Reviews - DVD/Streaming

Image courtesy of The Criterion Collection.

(NOTE: A version of this article was published here.)

When we think of Japanese cinema, Yasujiro Ozu usually isn’t the first name that comes to mind. In the West, his films have never been as widely distributed as Akira Kurosawa’s or Hayao Miyazaki’s. And if you actually have heard of Ozu, it’s likely because people have described his films as “slow” or “boring” (to quote some of the negative IMDb reviews for his Tokyo Story).

In reality, however, Ozu deserves much more exposure than he’s gotten. His films are not only thoughtful meditations on modern Japan, but they also subvert the stylistic conventions of mainstream filmmaking.

Reviews - DVD/Streaming