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Tokyo Story: an elegy to parenthood

My father was a year old when Tokyo Story was released back in 1953. To put things into context, I am only 27 years. Tokyo Story is more than twice as old as I am.

The best film of all time for directors

The best film of all time for directors.

Why did I attempt to watch such a dated film?

I watched it because Tokyo Story is considered by both directors and critics alike to be among the best films of all time. It’s not enough to read about a great film: a film is truly experienced only when one watches it. I had initially obtained a copy of it back when I was still an intern, but forgot about it because I had to attend to responsibilities inside the hospital and out. I then watched glimpses of it, but it was only two days ago that I had finally completed the film in its entirety. (It doesn’t help that the film has a slow, pensive, and elegiac quality in it. Patience is extremely important when one attempts to watch this movie.)

I don’t think it to be the greatest film of all time. First, I am neither movie critic nor director, so my understanding of film theory is marginal at best. I have a few films I think are more appealing to me. (These films are often thrillers, like The Killing and Army of Shadows.) Yet I cannot discount the greatness of this film and the eternal timeliness of its subject matter: Tokyo Story talks about family.

The story is simple. An elderly couple from rural Japan decide to visit their children in Tokyo. They are slowly being pushed aside, however, because of their children’s responsibilities to their family and to their work. Shige is the most obvious offender, bordering on subtly disrespecting her parents. Noriko, on the other hand, is a widow of the couple’s son. Despite that, however, she showers the most love and concern toward the couple, and it is this realization by the patriarch that moved me to tears. The blood siblings rush back to Tokyo a little after one of their parents died: only Noriko remained to help.

It’s so easy to summarize the film, because it tells a simple story. Its greatness, I believe, lies in its artistic expression as one watches the film. There are no true villains in this movie: there are only children who have drifted apart, and parents who have grown old.

I know and believe it’s natural to drift away from one’s parents. I guess I am lucky that I grew up in a close, traditional household that me and my siblings’ ties to our parents are still strong despite our adulthood. One day, I would have to be separated from them as well. I’m just glad that we were raised with filial respect that has still endured even despite our misgivings as regards our parents. I’m glad that I’ve watched the film, because I saw myself in the character of Koichi, who was a small, neighborhood doctor. While patients are indeed important, the film reminded me that my parents, who have given me life, are also important. Sometimes I take them for granted, but I appreciate them even more now that I’ve seen the film. While I would still get pissed off at them sometimes, as children normally do, I have the utmost respect and love for them. I hope having my own family in the future will not efface that.

This post is my own reminder.