March 15, 1972 [Tokyo Story]

Tokyo Story was made twenty years ago, and has drifted in and out of every conversation I’ve had about Japanese cinema, a solemn secret that one lets drop every once in a while, quietly but with some hope that it will be told.

Such a ghost-existence is fitting: The movie is still and direct—even the actors looking not at each other but into the camera, close, their polite smiles aching—and dedicated to the truth--even when that truth is our decision not to face it, to smile instead, to wait until we’re alone to weep--but in Tokyo Story someone dies, and one is allowed to cry openly--or not, maybe, like the men, just a little sighing grunt of acquiescence to the realization that “life is disappointing,” as the young girl says, fearing that she, too, will lose her tender heart, and turn from death to dinner and home and work the next day.

But the older woman--not older by much, just enough to lose her husband in the war and live seven years or so alone--knows that one must turn away, and go home, and work. It’s all she wants, to share one place with one other, and her sadness drifts like mourning incense through the film--she’s the first one to feel the death of a spouse, and joins her parents-in-law in trying to accept the disappointment.

This movie has given me a picture of the Japanese mind that may be partial, but it fills me, a rare moment of true poignancy--even though “poignant” is a word used too easily, a silly thing--but again: filling me in this movie, the nice smile and thank-you’s both a mask and a solid rock, something to hide behind and stand on.


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