Tokyo Story

List of Winners
Muriels HOF
Top 10 Lists
Rules and Regulations


(1953, directed by Yasujiro Ozu)

- inducted 2014 –

“As David Bordwell points out in his essay found inside the Criterion Blu-ray release of Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story (1953), at the time the movie was made and released worldwide audiences were getting their first exposure to Japanese cinema with Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950) and, a few years later, Teinosuke Kinugasa’s Gate of Hell (1955). Yet it, and the entirety of Ozu’s career as a film director, screened only sporadically and remained largely unfamiliar for almost 20 years, until Tokyo Story opened in New York in 1972 to coincide with the publication of Paul Schrader’s Transcendental Style in Film and clued Western culture in to the greatness of Ozu’s achievements.

“The reason for the delay? Tokyo Story, it seems, was deemed by distributors and other decision-makers as too specifically Japanese for translation outside that country. The irony, of course, is that as the movie as grown in esteem among critics (in 1992 and 2002, it made Sight and Sound’s top 10; in 2012 it placed third behind Vertigo and Citizen Kane) and with audiences conversant in the history and the pleasures of Japanese film, it has become clear that Tokyo Story radiates a remarkable universality and accessibility even as it quietly, patiently observes the detail of a specific culture during a time of recovery from a sort of horror never before witnessed in human history.

“Ozu’s masterpiece plays out with quiet assurance, contrasting the simplicity of unassuming lives lived out in modern rural Japan with the busy citizenry of postwar Tokyo, where the cityscape is constantly interrupted by easily visible (but never commented upon) indications of reconstruction. I most recently saw the movie only a day after seeing the 60th anniversary restoration of Godzilla (1954), a movie with its own burden of recent Japanese history to bear, and in considering these two seemingly polar opposite works in such close proximity I was struck by how Ozu's movie, a meditation on the uneasy, shifting relationships between parents and children (it was partially inspired by Make Way for Tomorrow), might be thought of as one of the hundreds of thousands of stories taking place among the tiny buildings under Godzilla's giant foot. This resonant, imperfect humanity is what's lost when the mushroom cloud rises.

“Each of the characters in Tokyo Story are affected by the lingering nightmare of the war in ways they may not even be aware of, as well as ways—missing sons and husbands—they couldn't possibly forget. In its own absorbing, beautifully modulated way, Ozu's film acknowledges the horrors of the past and how they've been woven into the fabric of everyday life, somehow, miraculously, giving equal weight to both quiet despair and to hope, as well as for mourning on a grand and a very personal scale. In Tokyo Story, there's as much emotional impact in a lowering of a glance, or in the raising a cup of sake in the comfort of close, familiar quarters, as in the rampage of a radioactive sea monster. Bordwell sums it up nicely—‘(Tokyo Story) carries to the limit Ozu’s faith that everyday life, rendered tellingly, provides more than enough drama to engage us deeply.’

“And through the director’s very personal, very deliberate style—low angles and immobile shots of living quarters interlocked, overlapping, with clear view of designated spaces within spaces, all within the greatest of spaces, the frame—he brings an overwhelming measure of confidence as well as respect for the thoughts and speech and even the reticence of each character, no matter how marginal. Within the seemingly distilled microcosm of one family in post-war Japan, in Tokyo Story Ozu manages to give us the world.” ~ Dennis Cozzalio

Original title: Tokyo monogatari
Principal cast: Chishu Ryu, Chieko Higashiyama, Setsuko Hara, Haruko Sugimura, So Yamamura, Kuniko Miyake, Kyoko Kagawa, Eijiro Tono, Nobuo Nakamura, Shiro Osaka, Osamu Hattori, Yone Hattori
Scenario by Kogo Noda and Yasujiro Ozu
Produced by Takeshi Yamamoto
Director of photography: Yuharu Atsuta
Production design by Tatsuo Hamada
Costume design by Taizo Saito
Film editing by Yoshiyasu Hamamura
Original music by Takanobu Saito
Sound by Yoshisaburo Senoo (sound), Yoshiomi Hori (sound assistant), Mitsuru Kaneko (sound engineer)

Duration: 136 minutes
Languages: Japanese, English
Filmed in black and white
Sound mix: Mono
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1

Produced by Shochiku Eiga
Released in USA by New Yorker Films
Premiered in Japan on 3 November 1953
USA release date: 13 March 1972

Awards and honors:
- Selected as the #1 film of all time by Sight & Sound Magazine: 2012 Directors’ Poll
- Selected as one of Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies,” 11 September 2003