Friday, March 25, 2011

'Tokyo Story' and 'The Brothers and Sisters of the Todo Family'

Over the last couple of days, I have been watching a couple of very interesting films by the celebrated Japanese film director Yasujiro: 'Tokyo Story' and 'Brothers and Sisters of the Todo Family' are poignant studies on the same theme - how the old traditional Confucian ways of Japan can fit into modern life.

In 'Brothers and Sisters...' it is the occasion of the mother's 61st birthday. This is an important one where the older generation traditionally stand aside and let the younger one take precedent. As the mother says, as she excuses her 'too red' robe to her grandson, it is a time when life comes full circle and it is time to be a child again. From my reading, I also know it is the age when the father of the family firm allows the elder son or maybe son-in-law to take charge. Unfortunately, this matriarch's husband dies and then she, and the youngest daughter is handed around the siblings, each one squabbling with her until they end up in a house that had previously been deemed uninhabitable.

It was filmed before the second world war and I found several features surprising: the way servants get down on their knees when they enter or leave a room, the continual bowing and removal of shoes and socks, the ritual of the Buddhist funeral, and the discussion about dress - western or traditional?

In 'Tokyo Story', which was set in post-war Tokyo, there is again the idea that the parents are a nuisance, and difficult to fit into their busy Tokyo lives. The two elderly parents are stoic, even when they are sent to a spa and are kept awake all night with the noise of younger people having a good time. Only the widowed daughter-in-law, the outsider, is kind to them, and there is a scene that is almost unbearably poignant. It is this character who is the most interesting because it is she who advises the younger unmarried daughter of the family, when she is disgusted by the behaviour of her siblings, that what has happened is natural and 'Everyone has to look out for their own life first'. The traditional world, where the elderly can rely on their off-spring for care when their life goes full-circle, is going. It must seem unjust to those who devoted their own youth to caring for their own parents.

I found the setting very interesting. The rooms seem fragile, small, exposed, not at all private. I also got a strong sense of the overcrowding and the fight between tradition and austere modernity.

They are both fairly slow films, which I like, because it gives me time to think. There are moments where all that is show is an empty room, and then, when people speak there is little introduction to the action. It reminds me very much of some of the Japanese stories I have read, especially those of Kawabata Yasunari. The important messages are between scenes and between the lines. Nothing it is told, and very subtle. It is rather like eavesdropping on a room full of strangers; it takes a while to work out what is going on, and success feels all the more satisfying for all that.


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