“What’s your favourite movie ever?”
I get asked this question a lot, and it’s impossible to answer.
There are tonnes of films that I think are masterpieces. but when pushed, I usually dance between Once Upon A Time In The West, Blade Runner, The Third Man and Apocalypse Now (the original not redux). Even then, movies I watch over and over (Annie Hall, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Boogie Nights) don’t always a sniff. Just reading back to February, you can see how my thoughts have changed. There’s a relatively new, well, new to me, contender of The Life & Death of Colonel Blimp. But! I always end whatever response I spew out to that question with the following recommendation: “But hey, you should really watch Tokyo Story.”
This film, commonly cited as director Yasujiō Ozu’s masterpiece, was recently chosen as the directors’ #1 movie in the latest Sight & Sound poll, and I was delighted to see it there. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Tokyo Story, a simple story about parents going to visit their children,changed the way I saw cinema and if it had not been for idle student curiosity, that would never have happened.
I was eighteen, just started uni, and didn’t really believe in black and white movies. Sure, I had seen a few and they were fine, but I felt most of them were hopelessly dated and hackneyed. If you’d even mentioned there was a screening of a foreign black and white movie, I’d have run a mile. I liked big movies. Colourful movies. American movies. But I recognised that being at university was all about “broadening the mind” and other such nonsense that, once done, could be regurgitated as part of attempts to get into a girl’s pants so I went along to the screening.
The opening few minutes of the movie did nothing to dispel my fears. It was slow, the takes were long and the music seemed twee. Yet, as I started to recognise my own life in what I was seeing, I become absolutely gripped. None of the traditional narrative or character devices were employed, the main characters didn’t really change – if anything, they’re non-plussed at the confirmation of what they know all to be true – and nothing much ‘happens’. Yet it felt so contemporary and resonant. It was miserable to acknowledge that city dwellers today could still be as callous as they were forty years ago, each generation repeating the mistakes of the one before it.
As I walked out of the screening, bawling like a little baby, I realised two things that I hadn’t before: First, that a great film didn’t need to shoot along a mile a minute and that I wanted to be kinder to the people around me. I can honestly say that watching Toyko Story made me a better person and changed the way I wrote my stories.
So get rid of any prejudices you might have and go watch it right now. I’ll wait here. You’ll thank me for it, even if your commercial aesthetic won’t.