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Ozu DVD boxset
Tokyo Twilight is available with Equinox Flower Good Morning in the Ozu DVD boxset from Tartan.

Tokyo Twilight
cast: Chishu Ryu, Ineko Arima, and Setsuko Hara

director: Yasujiro Ozu

140 minutes (PG) 1957
Tartan DVD Region o retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
Made in 1957, Tokyo Twilight is the last Ozu film to be filmed in black and white. Returning to his favoured territory, the postwar Japanese family, Ozu paints a bleak and atmospheric tableau of a family that is slowly falling apart.

His wife gone and presumed dead, a Japanese businessman is left to bring up his two daughters. Seemingly detached from reality, but judgemental nonetheless, the patriarch spends his spare time drinking and gambling while his two daughters slowly unravels. His eldest daughter Takako has recently returned home following the break-up of her unhappy marriage and his younger daughter Akiko wanders from late night bar to gambling den to pick-up joint, searching for her boyfriend in order to tell him that she is secretly pregnant. Family bonds strain as Takako tries to keep the family together through lies and threats and Akiko wants nothing more to be free of her family and her life. Finally, the bonds shatter as the girls' mother makes her unexpected reappearance.

A complex and subtle film, Tokyo Twilight is a film that examines the relationships between different family members and how they are affected by change. Unsurprisingly, this means that each character has hidden depths and subtleties that only really become obvious upon a second viewing. For example, the family's patriarch initially seems to be just that; passing judgement as he sits in his kimono having his daughters bring him food and drink. However, upon further examination, this businessman is not above heavy drinking over lunch during the week and his daughters keep him almost entirely out of the loop. Indeed, when he does get an inkling of what his daughters are up to and tries to confront one, his rant is less that of a disciplinarian and more that of a man with no authority who nonetheless feels the need to go through the motions.

Such complexity would not work if it were not for the superb performances turned in by the three main actors. Chishu Ryu's patriarch is a wonderfully nuanced performance as is that of Ineko Arima's teenager in turmoil. The best performance though is undeniably that of Ozu's muse Setsuko Hara. Possibly underwritten, Takako is an enigmatic woman who while undeniably a victim of her father's poor decisions seemingly acts as his enforcer, trying to keep the family not only together but also in the shape he is used to. Nowhere is this more evident than in the slightly disarming hostility of Takako's interactions with her mother.

Beautifully shot, the film is deeply atmospheric. Using Ozu's traditional waist-high camerawork, the film is set in a world of perpetual winter full of dingy clubs and gambling parlours where joyful music wafts through the air as if to suggest that it is echoing from another world quite different from the dingy and depressing place the characters inhabit.

If this film has one failing it is its ambition. The emotional depth of the story and the complexity of the characters and relationships seem ill suited to a film that doesn't even last two hours. Indeed, Ozu's ending to the film seems to rob the film of its final denouement and ties up all outstanding plotlines a little too easily as we never get to see the real fallout from the film's climax. But then, when dealing with family, does one ever really get closure?

Tokyo Twilight

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