Tokyo Story Autopsy

For those who have not seen the film, here is a short summary of the plot, taken from IMDB.

Elderly couple Shukishi and Tomi Hirayama live in the small coastal village of Onomichi, Japan with their youngest daughter, schoolteacher Kyoko Hirayama. Their other three surviving adult children, who they have not seen in quite some time, live either in Tokyo or Osaka. As such, Shukishi and Tomi make the unilateral decision to have an extended visit in Tokyo with their children, pediatrician Koichi Hirayama and beautician Shige Kaneko, and their respective families (which includes two grandchildren). In transit, they make an unexpected stop in Osaka and stay with their other son, Keiso Hirayama. All of their children treat the visit more as an obligation than a want, each trying to figure out what to do with their parents while they continue on with their own daily lives. At one point, they even decide to ship their parents off to an inexpensive resort at Atami Hot Springs rather than spend time with them. The only offspring who makes a concerted effort on this trip is Noriko Hirayama, their widowed daughter-in-law, whose husband, Shoji Hirayama, was killed eight years earlier in the war. Following the vacation, each child comes to some conclusion of their general behavior toward their parents, not only on this trip but throughout their entire adult lives. For some, this realization may come too late.

After watching the movie..all 2 hours and 15 minutes of it…I can safely say three things:

  1. It is beautiful
  2. It is heartbreaking
  3. It is very, very hard to watch in one go


The artistry of this film is on another level. Here are some of my thoughts:

Camera Angle-The set and camera positioning are both extremely simple, in a stylish and contemporary way. Throughout the movie, Ozu maintains a very stylised way of positioning the camera. The camera is stationary, at a very low level, creating a feeling of intimacy with the characters. The viewer is made to feel like a guest in the home of each family. The camera rarely pans but instead the film transitions through straight cuts, giving an eerily matter of fact feeling to the story.

In each scene, the characters are allowed to walk in and out of the frame, giving the houses a ‘dolls house-like’ feeling. The beauty of this is that the audience can take in the detail of the set, adding to the story like the threads of a tapestry. Furthermore, the camera lingers on after the characters leave the scene, giving them time to digest what has just happened-this also alludes to the loneliness of the story, in which we see few true friendships, as well as foreshadowing the feeling of loss that is created as Tomi (mother) dies. Despite the beauty created  by this choice, it makes the film a lengthy and often tiring watch.



Recurring Motifs and Metaphor-

The film is almost bookended by certain scenes, giving it dramatic emotional effect.

The repetition of the statue depicts the continuity of life after death. Life goes on, however you might just see it all in a new light. It also marks the beginning of a new chapter.

At the beginning of the film, the couple pack together, excited to visit their family. Halfway through their trip, following neglect by their family, they pack for home. After Tomi’s death, the father unpacks alone. This reinforces the feeling of loneliness as he sits in the same room, the same shot, with the same neighbour with only one difference, the lack of his loved one.

Once bustling streets are quiet as we learn of Tomi’s death, acting as a metaphorical moment of silence.

The train ties the family together, it is how they visit one another, how they stay connected. It stops running when Tomi dies, representing a broken family. However in the hopeful new setting of a school, after a heartfelt conversation between Father and Noriko, the train runs again representing a brighter future for the family.








Schematic and Artefact

The new task, to create:

  • A Schematic- In this case, a schematic is a visual representation of a film, in the form of an illustrated diagram or system(similar to those used for underground and metro stations). Although it may look complex, it gets the point of the film across in a universally understandable way. Using Vogler as inspiration, you can liken a schematic to a ‘Major Nerve Ganglion‘. The strands of history, character and plot are intertwined to form something of substance, like a thread leading to a ball of wool. From this one diagram, one should be able to understand a whole movie without actually watching it. Brilliant!

Having presented about Phil Campbell last semester, I was excited to try out his ‘totem’ technique. I had found it fascinating how the team plotted out the original storyline of The Godfather and the characters involved in each section; not as a way to better understand the film itself, but to understand where the free space in the story was. In other words, their interest was in what the characters were doing off screen. In this time, they could create a new and exciting game that the viewers had never seen before.


It’s an exciting thought that there is so much more behind our film than what meets the eye and that through the schematic, we might be able to expose some of that story-goodness. In essence, we can re-build the world around the characters and their seemingly linear storyline.

  • An Artefact-Again, in this context the word ‘artefact’ can mean something entirely different to what it usually does. Our artefact will be an object made by us that depicts something of reference to our film, its history and its culture. Which thankfully, we are not short of!


Our Film-Tokyo Story (1953)


Tokyo Story is a 1953 Japanese film directed by Yasujirō Ozu,

often called “the most Japanese of Japanese filmmakers,” made films about everyday life

Slant Magazine

On initial release, the film was deemed ‘too Japanese’ to do well, yet has since been heralded as ‘best film of all time‘ (Sight and Sound Magazine, 2012).

Despite my love for Japanese artwork and style, I initially had my doubts. The film seemed long, boring(?), and old fashioned. However upon reading that ‘on the directors’ poll, it was 17th in 1992, tied at number 16 with Psycho and The Mirror in 2002‘ (British Film Institute 1992,2002), I wasn’t as reluctant to watch it. If it can tie with Psycho, it must be ok…Right?

An interesting feature is that Tokyo Story is actually the third instalment in a trilogy of films called  the “Noriko trilogy” by Ozu—the others are Late Spring and Early Summer  ‘in each of which Hara portrays a young woman named Noriko. Though the three Norikos are distinct, unrelated characters, they are linked primarily by their status as single women in postwar Japan.’