It's nearly impossible to watch Tokyo Story without thinking about your own family. In Yasujiro Ozu's familial masterpiece, there are so many universal themes being subtly explored that surely there is something to cling to. Haven't all of us as children wondered how as adults we should relate to our parents -- and by extension, do we not struggle with incorporating them into our busy lives? Don't all parents wonder, to whatever degree, why their children have wound up the way they have?
This week marks a series of landmarks for both Ozu and his classic, which is considered by many to be not only his best films but one of the best films of all time. (A Sight & Sound poll of international film critics ranked Tokyo Story at No. 5.) Friday marks not only the 100th anniversary of Ozu's birth on Dec. 12, 1903, but also the 40th anniversary of his death on Dec. 12, 1963 -- while this year is the 50th anniversary of the release of the film. And as we hit the holiday season, I can't think of a more relevant DVD release, as family awkwardly stumbles front and center into our thoughts.
In the 1993 documentary Talking With Ozu, Japanese director Stanley Kwan tearfully relates Tokyo Story with his shaky relationship with his father. "Ozu's films helped me grow up," he says, after quoting a Japanese proverb: "The wind never lets trees rest calmly ... observe filial piety." The documentary is one of many extras in this two-disc set, including the two-hour 1983 Ozu documentary, I Lived, But ..., featuring interviews with former assistants, actors, and film critics from both America and Japan.
As David Bordwell, author of Ozu and the Poets of Cinema, notes in the liner notes, Tokyo Story also displays many of Ozu's deceptively intricate techniques -- most notably his fondness for shooting speakers' lines in isolation shot in deference to their words and thoughts. Ozu often was considered "too Japanese" for Westerners, but as this DVD release of so many anniversaries proves, Ozu and Tokyo Story are as timeless as movies can get. -- David Lee Simmons