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“Isn’t life disappointing?” – “Yes, it is.”, Noriko  says with a smile. She wants to remind the younger girl that there is no point neglecting that families drift apart, that kids drift away from their parents, and that the longer the family exists, there more you will be encountering disappointments. Not because anybody would mean evil, but because they do not fit together anymore, the lifes of the parents and the children. Longing for the perfect symbiosis of childhood, when dependency from one side and sheer joy from the other work in harmony, later life brings about feelings of being bothered and being a burden.

This is what Tokyo Story shows in its very simple setting: An elderly couple travels from the countryside to Tokyo to see their children, and they experience joy about the reunion, but also pragmatism about the inconvenience. People have lost the touch for temporarily reuniting families, and sitting in the middle of Tokyo, the parents experience that while welcome, they do not have a role to play in their childrens’ lives anymore. A realisation that the father takes with the stoicism that maybe only an Asian head of family can conjure, on the verge of ignorance and coldness. The mother may take it more to the heart, and the heart gets sick in the process.

There is no real point in discussing whether this is one of the greatest films of all times (as its long-term membership on the Sight & Sound lists would suggest), or just a very good one. I have to thank the fact that it is mentioned very frequently on these lists that I finally got around to watching it. What it is is timeless and universal, it covers truths and observations, is not limited to its cultural setting. Everybody who ever has been a parent or a child (do the math…) understands 5 minutes into the film what this will be about, and will be able to feel great empathy with the characters and their respective strategies of dealing with the course of life.

Roger Ebert’s original review when the film was released in the US 1972:

and his later appreciation in his “Great Movies” series:

Especially the latter a very interesting read!

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