Monday, December 17, 2007

Review – Tokyo-Ga

December 16, 2007

Tokyo-Ga – 1983, U.S.

In 1983, German director Wim Wenders traveled to Tokyo looking for the Tokyo that he had grown up seeing in the films of Yasujiro Ozu. What he found was that that world did not exist anymore. Tokyo-Ga is a documentary of what Wenders saw in Tokyo and what he though about it later.

Tokyo-Ga is indeed two films. One is a view of 1983 Tokyo. That Tokyo is one replete with video game arcades, adult males sitting for hours at a pachinko parlor, and young men and women who dance to music from the 1950s while dressing like they were performing in Grease. Throughout Wenders is surprisingly negative. Wenders even spends about ten minutes showing viewers how fake food displays are made, begging the question, “What does this have to do with Ozu?” Further adding to the negativity is Director Werner Herzog, whom Wenders runs into at the top of what appears to be the equivalent of Seattle’s Space Needle. Herzog adds to Wenders’ negativity by lamenting the lack of beautiful, natural scenery in Tokyo. Oddly, Wenders did not interview any of the people he filmed or ask them if they knew of Ozu’s films.

The second part of Tokyo-Ga features two somewhat interesting interviews. The first is of Chishu Ryu, the star of many of Ozu’s films. He tells Wenders about what it was like working for Ozu and how grateful he feels to have had this opportunity. He and Wenders also visit Ozu’s grave, which is unmarked, except for the word, nothingness. Wenders’ explanation and discussion of this fact is fascinating. However, little of Ozu’s world is talked about, which is supposedly the reason why Wenders went to Japan. The second interview is with Yuharu Atsuta, one of Ozu’s cameramen. He provides insight into Ozu’s shooting technique and explains Ozu’s importance in his life and career, but, like Chishu Ryu, does not add any insight into the changes that have taken place in Tokyo.

As the film ended, I couldn’t help letting out, “That’s it?” In truth, I couldn’t really explain what it was exactly. Of course, Japan has changed. That’s no great revelation. Of course, Ozu’s films show a simpler, gentler time. Many of them were made before or immediately after World War II, when the world was indeed different, when Japan was certainly more traditional. Lamenting the changes that have taken place seems the topic of a short conversation, not a 92-minute documentary. As such, it seems more like complaining than investigation. (Tokyo-Ga is included as a special feature on Criterion’s release of Ozu’s Late Spring)

2 stars

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