Tokyo Story

Ozu at his finest

An ageing couple (Chishū Ryū and Chieko Higashiyama) travel to Tokyo to visit their grown-up children who are too busy to give them any time. In contrast, the couple’s widowed daughter-in-law (Setsuko Hara) welcomes them. Tokyo Story is almost 70 years old. It gently explores the minutiae of post-war Japan and while there’s very little plot but typical of director Yasujirō Ozu, it is possibly the most relatable film ever made. It’s about family, relevant for any generation, and cultural differences turn out to be paper thin.

The story by Kōgo Noda and director Yasujirō Ozu, loosely based on Make Way For Tomorrow (dir. Leo McCarey), unfolds without exposition, prejudice or sentimentality, and barely any conflict. It is instead a pure drama, repeat viewings of which reveal delicate nuances in the writing and performances from Ozu’s regular cast of actors.

The film is an unparalleled success and an easy watch, why does Tokyo Story find itself in the mix as one of the best ever made? In Sight and Sound‘s most recent poll, it topped the Director’s chart. A visit from the countryside by grandparents doesn’t seem like an immediate rival for Citizen Kane or an epic like The Godfather but that’s Ozu for you and this, his finest work, is breathtakingly beautiful and an extraordinary achievement.

As far as Japanese cinema is concerned, some may say that, it was Ozu and fellow luminary Akira Kurosawa who dragged their country’s work from filming theatre to a sophistication that rivalled the Hollywood and European movements. Further still, Tokyo Story is remarkable in its lack of self-consciousness; the scars from the war are there (most keenly felt by Hara’s Nuriko) but they are not exploited and there’s no contrived metaphor or irony here. Even cinema’s default weapon of nostalgia seems more precisely placed.

Ozu’s often funny films gently reflect humanity at its most real. His classical style became markedly different to that of his Western contemporaries, while Kurosawa embraced and developed the American approach. Between them, Japan had something new and invigorating to offer. Cinema can show us societies, cultures and fantasies that may differ from our own. Ozu reminds us of what we all share.


The Yūharu Atsuta photography is a wonder. Still, composed but full of movement in light and shadow, and the new transfer is excellent. The previous Blu-ray from the BFI was perfectly fine at the time but suffered from high contrast and frame shake. This brand new 4K restoration is far superior and the depth of detail adds a new level of appreciation to the film. We can now see further back past characters stood in frame allowing the detail of the sets to become fully apparent.


  • Remastered in 4K with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack
  • An Introduction to Tokyo Story (2020, 26 mins): Asian-cinema expert Tony Rayns provides an introduction to Ozu’s most acclaimed film
  • Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family (1941, 105 mins): following the death of her husband, Mrs Toda realises she has been left with sizeable debts and an extended family reluctant to support her
  • Talking with Ozu (1993, 40 mins): a tribute to the legendary director featuring filmmakers Lindsay Anderson, Claire Denis, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Aki Kaurismäki, Stanley Kwan, Paul Schrader and Wim Wenders
  • Furnival and Son (1948, 19 mins): recounts the difficult choice a recently demobbed serviceman has to make between an unexpected job offer elsewhere, and resuming his pre-war position as his father’s right-hand man in their small cutlery firm, Furnival and Son
  • Image gallery
  • ***FIRST PRESSING ONLY*** Fully illustrated booklet including an essay by Professor Joan Mellen, archival writing by John Gillett and Lindsay Anderson and a biography of Yasujirō Ozu by Tony Rayns

The new release includes a short film called Furnival and Son. It is not an uninteresting piece of work though I cannot fathom the link with Ozu, if there is one. Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family is an earlier work by Ozu and it’s great to see it retained from the earlier set and the quality is improved too now it is included on the Blu-ray. Tony Rayns discusses Ozu’s repeated themes in An introduction to Tokyo Story and the inspiration for the film. He also explains some of the Japanese society that sits within the film. An archive piece, Talking With Ozu from 1993 is dated, but has contemporary filmmakers including Paul Schrader offering their take on Ozu’s legacy.

Tokyo Story is now available, remastered in 4K, on Blu-ray from the BFI

Jon Meakin

Updated: Jun 17, 2020

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