“Critics have frequently observed that Ozu Yasujiro’s Tokyo monogatari (Tokyo Story, 1953) was inspired by Leo McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow (1937). David Bordwell sees Ozu as “recasting” the American film – borrowing from it, adapting it – and briefly mentions that there are similarities in story, theme, and plot structure. Indeed, these similarities are striking.”*
I feel that that there is a crucial difference between the two films. In MWFT the couple are separated for most of the film and Death is understated. In TS separation of the couple by death is overtly present throughout.
THE OLD COUPLE : Quoting from my earlier post: In TS the characteristics of an ageing couple are subtly exposed and recognised. Apart from being separated for one night the couple are seen together throughout. They seem to act in unison and share thoughts and impressions. Visually they are always in the same frame, sitting in a diagonal across the screen or in close ups facing the camera. When walking she follows him. ….. Ozu concentrates on details: losing objects and finding them again, forgetting the umbrella behind more than once, the dizzy spells, the remarks about change, the alienation from their adult children and young people at a holiday resort, the desire to go back home, the thank yous for being looked after in spite of being so busy. All are recognisable common experiences of an old couple anywhere.
The old couple have a son (doctor), daughter (hairdressing salon owner) and daughter-in-law (widow of the son who died in the war) who live in Tokyo. A younger son lives in Osaka and a younger daughter lives with her parents. (I will use their family status throughout. )
Mother and Father prepare to visit their children in Tokyo. Apart from the teenager grandson, they are received with respect, warmth and love. However, both son and daughter find it difficult to accommodate their own busy lives with their parents and ask the widow to take them for a tour of Tokyo. They then organise for the parents to spend some time in a hot water spa.
This experience turns out to be painfully uncomfortable. These sequences show the couple suffering in unison in an environment of noisy young people on holiday. An incident during their walk on the sea front foreshadows the future. After having contemplated the sea, sitting on the sea wall, they stand up but Mother find it difficulty standing up. They brush the incident away and decide to go back to Tokyo where they are not well received by their son and daughter. Mother spends the night with her daughter-in-law. Father goes in search of old friends with whom he spends the night recollecting the good old time and drinking.
It is in the sequences where the couple are away from each other that differences between them are highlighted. We learn that the father was a heavy drinker. The death of his son in the war is only touched on. In contrast, there is a warm and close contact between the mother and the widow.
Mother urges her daughter-in-law to forget her husband and get married again.
The death of Mother is signposted again after the incident at the seaside. At the station on the way home she declares to her son and daughter: Now that we have seen us here there is no need for you to come to see us – even if something happens to one of us.
The train journey is interrupted in Osaka (home of the younger son) by Mother being unwell and needing medical help. We see the couple together. She swallows some medicine. They comment on their visit to the children. (Ozu uses again the techniques described above. They convey the togetherness of the couple and address the viewers.) They agree that there is a distance between them and the children: how children never come up to their parents’ expectations, how when they get married they become different persons. But the couple articulate: “Let us be happy that they are better than most – are better than average.“
Back at home, the couple are already separated. She lies unconscious with a bag of ice over her head. Husband and younger daughter cool her with fans. When the daughter goes to greet the rest of the family, the husband talks to his comatose wife and tells her that she will get better, that the children are coming. But for the viewer the shots of two boats crossing each other on the river and an insect fluttering around the lamp signal that she will not survive. The rest of the family arrive and after the visit of the doctor, the son takes the daughter and father aside and declares that it is not good news. Father asks if the visit to Tokyo exhausted her. Daughter “She was so lively in Tokyo”. Father looks at her. “It might have caused it – So what is it then?”
Son: “She may not live till tomorrow morning….”
Father ” I see she is not going to live.” Father remains impassive. “So… she is not going to live…..” Pensive : “So this is the end?…. Then Keizo won’t be in time, will he?”
We see him next on the terrace after the death of his wife when he is called and told that Keizo has arrived. Very detached : “It was such a beautiful dawn. It’s going to be another hot day today,” he says. The family is around Mother who has a white cloth over her face.
The family meal: recollections by everybody. Father talks briefly of an event when Mother was in her forties but Daughter intervenes and after telling him not to drink too much lectures him. You have to take good care of yourself now, Father, and enjoy a long life. He leaves the table. We do not know what he thinks but when he comes back drying his hands our first thought is that he went to the toilet, but his composed talk and profuse thanks to everybody may show that he would like to be left on his own: It’s all over now. The children organise their departures and ask the widowed daughter-in-law to stay on.
NEXT day the father is out on the terrace looking after the plants. The widow after clearing the house comes to say good bye. Their conversation is very touching as the father thanks her for having looked after his wife showing care and love. Father urges her to forget her dead husband and find a partner.
The following is an account of the feelings experienced by the widow that gives us an insight into the complex changes in grief processes.
Father: You should get remarried if you meet the right man. Just forget about Shoji . It pains me to see you living like this.
Widow: No its not like that
Father:(about his wife) She said she’d never met a nicer woman than you.
Widow: Im sure she was overestimating me
Father: She certainly wasn’t
Widow: I’m not the nice woman she thought I was. It embarrasses me that you should think of me like that.Really I can be quite selfish. I’m not always thinking of your late son. Though may think I am.
Father: You should just forget him.
Widow: Often there are days when I don’t think of him at all. Sometimes I feel I can’t go on like this forever. I think often I lay awake at night wondering. Days pass and nothing happens and I wonder what will become of me if I remain alone . Days pass and nothing happens and I feel so alone. In my heart I seem tobe waiting for something. I am just being selfish .
Father: No you’re not
Widow: Yes I am . But I couldn’t say this to mother.
Father: That’s all right. You truly are a good woman. An honest woman .
Widow: Not at all.
The father gets up and opens a box containing the watch of his deceased wife and offers it to the widow.
It is rare to read this aspect of Tokyo Story in film reviews and yet the loss of a partner in a long relationship is a common dramatic experience of old people.