Tokyo Family (Tokyo Story remake), by Yôji Yamada

Tokyo Family

August, heat, and no one on the streets. I haven’t been writing much lately, so I’ve decided to bring back some film reviews I’ve written for other websites (now that we have a dedicated cinema section on the blog). That’s where I had the luck to start as a film critic (going to film screenings is cool!) and fulfill a dream in some way.

This time, the chosen one is Tokyo Family. A beautiful film I watched about a year ago. It’s the remake of the incomparable Tokyo Story, by Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu, the master behind this new rendition, Yôji Yamada.

It seems that making remakes has become a trend in Japan, not only of old films from their filmography – Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, a remake of Harakiri, by Masaki Kobayashi – but also of more or less recent American films – Unforgiven, a remake of Unforgiven, for example. Now, after a stop at the Valladolid Seminci Film Festival, we can see Tokyo Family in Spain, a modern revision of the great – and timeless – Tokyo Story, by Yasujiro Ozu.

In Tokyo Family, I miss more shots of people hanging clothes

Yôji Yamada (The Twilight Samurai) must have known the challenge he was facing in making this film, just as Takashi Miike did with Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai – who came out well in terms of reviews, ultimately. In both cases, we’re dealing with two films (the originals) considered masterpieces, not only in Japanese cinema but worldwide. So, it’s going to be a challenge for me too, to write this review while trying to avoid comparisons.

Tokyo Family is about an elderly couple who travel to Tokyo to visit their children for a week. As is usual in this type of cinema, the pace of the film is calm and the staging elegant and natural without excesses (nothing like I Origins, for example). The direction is restrained and classic, so there are no major changes from the original. It tells a story that has been told before, yet it still touches emotionally due to its universality, and the parent-child relationships are portrayed realistically and truthfully, without the need for melodrama or shouting.

It’s not an intimate film, and although it might seem so given how it approaches the topic of generational and familial differences, it’s not pessimistic either; what one feels while watching Tokyo Family is a mixture of bitterness and love for life. Films like Make Way for Tomorrow might feel closer to us, but there are themes that are universal and often completely timeless. Family is one of those themes, which is why it’s a recommended film for any cinema lover, without a doubt; it doesn’t judge any of its members or justify them more than they might justify themselves with their own words, but it leaves an impact, as it’s easier to see the mote in someone else’s eye than the beam in your own.

On the other hand, the only real change in the storyline from the original is a great success. The appearance of the youngest son of the elderly couple, whose life is more disastrous than that of his siblings, allows the film to delve into Japan’s current issues. While in Tokyo Story, Japan faced the loss of identity and westernization by the United States and suffered the consequences of World War II, in Tokyo Family, the Japanese have been living through an economic crisis of prosperity without growth, or zero growth, compounded by the current global crisis, and the consequent life attitude of some young adults, not to mention the catastrophe in Fukushima.

Ultimately, what remains is a beautiful homage to Ozu’s film and those imperfect parents who, like Barkley and Lucy Cooper (Make Way for Tomorrow), Shukishi and Tomi Hirayama (Tokyo Story), Kyohei and Toshiko Yokoyama (Still Walking), or Shukichi and Tomiko Hirayama (Tokyo Family), do nothing more than see what legacy they leave behind; the victories, the failures, the disappointments, and the joys obtained from raising children and watching them mature and become independent over the years.

I watched, reviewed and rated Tokyo Family ★★★★ on Thursday Oct 10, 2013

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