東京暮色 (Tokyo Twilight)
An uncharacteristically dark film by Ozu about a dysfunctional family. It centers around the daughters of a middle-class banker (Ryu Chishu) who, deserted by his wife many years ago, has raised them on his own. The elder daughter (Hara Setsuko) has left her abusive husband and returned with her small child. The younger daughter (Arima Ineko) is deserted by her boyfriend when she finds herself pregnant. On top of this, she learns that the woman running the mahjong shop she frequents is actually her mother (Yamada Isuzu), long presumed dead, who she resents bitterly for having abandoned them. The mother’s overtures to her children are rejected. In the end, the younger daughter is killed by a train, the mother leaves town sadly with no sendoff from her remaining child, and the elder daughter decides to return to her unhappy marriage for the sake of her child.
The movie operates by some curious logic. The younger sister, having been too young to remember her long-lost mom, seems to hold the father responsible for her inability to find love, though nothing in the movie suggests that he was anything but the wronged party. (They note specifically that he had taken his daughters on a happy trip to the zoo before coming back to discover the mother gone.) The older sister also seems obliquely to be blaming the father when she announces she’s going back to her husband despite her miserable relationship, saying that a mother/father pair is necessary for children. She is utterly unforgiving of her own mother and understandably refuses any attempt at a reconciliation, but why she thinks an unhappy household is better for a child is a mystery given her own experience. The father does admit to having pushed her into the marriage and apologizes for it, but his intentions seemed honorable enough. Was he unloving, uncommunicative, uninterested in the girls? None of those seem to be the case as presented here, but they are all suggested. The mother is portrayed surprisingly in a fairly favorable light, with no hint as to why she dumped her family so suddenly and brutally. She’s regretful that the girls won’t give her a second chance, but it’s not clear why they should in the absence of any attempt at an apology. Still, the scene when she is on train hoping that the daughter will show up is heartbreaking. I was convinced that the daughter would appear at the last minute, but that would have been cheap; her cool rejection of her mother after all that time was as right story-wise as it was atypical movie-wise. A great piece of filmmaking. Nevertheless, I was bothered by the film’s premise. While I have to assume that the father was too cold or cruel or unfatherly since all women in the house ultimately abandon him, that’s never shown in the movie, where he seems perfectly normal in a Japanese Meiji guy way. I couldn’t see what the movie was getting at.
Technically, the movie ranks with the best of the other Ozu films I’ve seen. There was great acting all around. Hara was the lynchpin with her usual understated performance, followed closely by Ryu, though he’s basically playing the same role (excellently so) as in every Ozu movie. I wasn’t familiar with Arima, but she was excellent, and Yamada was fantastic: her sad realization that she has no place in Tokyo and her desperate hope in the train scene were extremely affecting. Sugimura Haruko also makes a memorable appearance as the father’s sister, bringing info on two potential husbands for the younger daughter in the belief that this is the magic cure for the girl’s unhappiness. The movie does not offer a happy ending for any of the main characters: the father has lost all his women, the older sister goes back to a loveless marriage, the younger sister has an abortion and is killed by a train, the mother leaves town unredeemed and unwanted. Ozu’s usual bittersweet tone is just bitter here. Very much worth watching, especially for the acting, but the implications of the story are unconvincing as shown. Curious film.