The fact that Yasujirô Ozus Tokyo Story (1953) is one of the great achievements in cinematic history might be motivation enough to catch it at the IFC Center this weekend. But such talk risks pinning behind glass a work of art that still has the power to astonish, disrupt, and shatter hearts. An aging patriarch (Chishû Ryû) and matriarch (Chieko Higashiyama) finally visit the big city, only to find themselves handled like hot potatoes by their adult progeny and simply expendable in Tokyos postwar scramble for economic survival. Though traditional values still dictate the familys manners and speech, time and money have become too short to waste on sightseeing, caretaking, or basic sensitivity. Were granted access to the childrens points of viewtheyre selfish yet understandably so, not villains but callousedbut Ozu is most interested in microscoping beneath the polite smiles of their elders, confronting a lifetime of gathered disappointment, facing children they frankly cant stand to be around. At the root of Ozus tragedy is abject futility. Even those who feel the intergenerational debt, such as angelic daughter-in-law Noriko (Setsuko Hara), are powerless to pay it. Ozus long shots, knee-high camera placement, and collapsed perspectiveas gorgeous and unsettling as a Cézannegather power over the duration, but time itself is the masters most potent weapon. Protracted sequences make you impatient for forward motion, but then, in an instant, youre left to mourn beauties hastened away.
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