Fill­ing in those filmic blind spots, one per­son at a time

Empire (UK) - - RE.VIEW -


THIS MONTH’S FIRST Take Club in­ductee is David Bad­diel, co­me­dian, au­thor, and man who had man­aged to avoid see­ing a Ja­panese clas­sic that placed 231st on our 301 Great­est Movies Of All Time list back in 2014…

When I was 17, my favourite film was Peter Green­away’s The Draughts­man’s Con­tract. Not be­cause it moved me, or made me laugh, or punch the air with joy. It was my favourite film be­cause I was a twat, and gen­uinely thought cold, un­en­gag­ing art films were what I liked.

What I thought I didn’t like — and this was the point I was no doubt try­ing to make to the var­i­ous arty girls who were not get­ting off with me any­way — was Hol­ly­wood pap.

Then, for a laugh, I went to see E.T.. To sneer, and to demon­strate, through sneer­ing, how un­touched I was go­ing to be by the syrupy sen­ti­men­tal­ism the film was no doubt de­signed to pro­voke in a less dis­cern­ing viewer. And I’ve never cried so much in my life. My face wasn’t just wet with tears, it was awash with them. Steven Spiel­berg had burst a dam in my heart.

Since then, that’s all I’ve re­ally wanted from films: to make me cry. As a re­sult I have, in gen­eral, avoided art­house movies. Okay, I love Char­lie Kauf­man (even Synec­doche, New York); but he’s funny, and the other emo­tional re­sponse I do like film to in­voke is laugh­ter. But your proper, Old-school Art­housers — An­to­nioni, Fellini, Eisen­stein, Tarkovsky — on be­ing of­fered

a chance to watch their films, I pre­fer to an­noy cineastes by say­ing, “I’d rather watch Hor­ri­ble

Bosses 2.” Which, by the way, is a great movie. One movie which is al­ways, as foot­ball pun­dits say, there or there­abouts on th­ese lists is Ya­su­jirô Ozu’s Tokyo Story. It’s Art­house, with a cap­i­tal A. It’s black-and-white. It’s sub­ti­tled. It was made over 60 years ago. It’s in­cred­i­bly slow. Ev­ery shot is framed to within an inch of its life. And most im­por­tantly, you can buy from Cam­bridge Film Hand­books a book of es­says on the film, with ti­tles like ‘Travel To­ward And Away: Fu­rusato And Jour­ney In Tokyo Story’.

Ini­tially, ev­ery­thing about Tokyo Story con­firmed my prej­u­dices. Most dia­logue is shot full on, face di­rectly to cam­era. Which means, to the mod­ern eye, watch­ing Tokyo Story is a bit like watch­ing a very un­funny episode of Peep Show. But then, sud­denly, I was hooked. Be­cause

Tokyo Story is not, in fact, an art film. Its emo­tional and nar­ra­tive pal­ette is ex­tremely sim­ple, which means you do the thing that art films most want you not to do: en­gage. There is noth­ing Brechtian about it. An aged cou­ple come from their small town to visit their adult chil­dren in Tokyo. The chil­dren, though, are too busy to look af­ter them. The par­ents go home and then — spoiler — the mum dies.

It’s a moral­ity tale. It’s al­most a kids’ movie. Its map of good and bad is child­like. The par­ents are ab­surdly sweet and in­no­cent. The chil­dren are cold and un­feel­ing, apart from their an­gelic daugh­ter-in-law, Noriko, the young widow of their son, killed in the war. The dia­logue is so straight­for­ward as to be al­most blank.

What this does is in­vest a very or­di­nary story with some­thing like the power of myth. John Updike said that the job of art was “to give the mun­dane its beau­ti­ful due”, and this is what

Tokyo Story does. And that story re­lates to all of us, par­tic­u­larly those of us who are no longer 17, and are com­ing to re­alise that that story, even more than the one about hav­ing an alien mate, is the one which truly mat­ters. It can, I no­ticed as I turned away from the screen, make you cry.


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