Film Micrœview #113: Tokyo-Ga (1985)

07.31.2014 § Leave a comment

Tokyo Ga (2)

Tokyo Ga

Rating: Shrug.

I had to include two shots. I could have even included the shot where Wenders emulates an Ozu shot in modern day, even including the little splash of red, as he watches a modern train go by — or the shot he took of a Shinjuku pedestrian street with 50mm. I loved the layering of reflections and lights in the shot above as a night train passes another night train, reflections as windows, so many layers, as Wenders analyzes the “mu” on Ozu’s grave. And that’s an Ozu screenplay — wow!

Sometimes a bit rambly (fake food, La Jetee). Things like the golf range and pachinko parlor and doo wop dancing make sense as extensions of an examination into a changing and coping society. But Tokyo-Ga is a document of an experience Wenders had. And it’s dedicated to his family — Ozu wrote about families, and here Wenders spends plenty of time just observing random human family behavior. Kind of like a travelogue that happens to be made by a great artist. And it is self-aware of that, using the airplane movie as a springboard to wonder about the presence of his camera and whether the search for truth compromises his ability to find it, etc.

My biggest complaint is that I think Wenders gets a lot about Japan wrong, and in particular what Ozu’s feelings might have been about Japan and in particular Tokyo today. I could have been spared some of the more digressive cultural critique (the TV manufacturing rant, for instance) and imaginings of Wenders’s mind. Most of the time I wished he would have just kept his mouth shut, especially when other people were talking — rather than opt for traditional subtitles, he spoke over them “Ryu told me such and such”. It was strange and bothersome.

Highlights were the two interviews with two of Ozu’s closest collaborators. The cameraman’s emotional breakdown got to me — obvious that it came last. The film opens quietly with clips from Ozu movies and ends the same way — but you already cannot watch them the same way having felt the spirits of the men behind the work.

As an Ozu film, this gave me invaluable insight into his process. Of course he would time the shots with a special-made stopwatch that converted seconds into frames of various film stock. Of course he had a custom tripod built to get lower to the ground outside. Of course his screenplays were storyboarded out. Of course he obsessed over 50mm. Of course his actors felt like puppets and his cameraman considered himself only a caretaker of the camera — Ozu did everything and lived every role in his films.

The clip with Herzog was certainly included to foil him against Ozu. They certainly couldn’t be any different as filmmakers. Herzog’s youthful hyperbolic machismo shines through here. He rants like a Futurist about needing to blast off into space to get a truthful image anymore, and being bold and working hard blah blah blah. Images shmimages. Dude, where’s your family?

And Wenders is not much better, I would suppose. Perhaps if he had spent more time actually inside Japanese family’s homes he would have found what he was looking for…



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