Written by: John White on March 5th, 2006
Theatrical Release Date: Japan, 1957
Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Cast: Ineko Arima, Kamatari Fujiwara, Setsuko Hara, Nobuo Nakamura, Chishu Ryu
DVD released: 12th May 2005
Approximate running time: 140 mins
Aspect Ratio: 4:3
Rating: Not Rated
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono
DVD Release: Panorama
Region Coding: Region 3 NTSC
Retail Price: HK$ 82
Shukichi is a divorced father with two grown-up daughters, Akiko and Takako. Akiko has given up University and has become withdrawn and uncommunicative. Takako has left her husband because of his drinking and depression. Unknown to them, their mother has returned to Tokyo and Takako seeks her out to ask that she does not tell Akiko who she is. Akiko becomes pregnant and chases after the father to no effect eventually being arrested by the police because of the hours she keeps. Takako bails her out and tries to keep it secret from her father. He finds out and Akiko refuses to say what is wrong. Akiko becomes convinced that her recently returned mother had her with another man and chases her to find out. In the midst of her fury Akiko is run over and dies of her injuries. Takako visits her mother and tells her “You are to blame”. Takako resolves to return to her husband as her child needs the “love of both parents”.
Ozu made films from 1927 until his death in 1963. He became known for typifying the Japanese way of life in his films with his later concentration on themes of the family in the midst of change. He looked to represent life in his films and remove artificial dramatic highs and lows. From his 1930’s social interest films to his later intimate dramas Ozu moved away from being dependent on plot and simply used the camera to capture his characters. His signature camera set up is from a low angle looking up at the characters heads, he also moved away from techniques like tracking shots or any kind of panning. Ozu largely worked with a set group of actors and wrote his films with a key collaborator, Kogo Noda, where the two often recycled characters and situations.
Tokyo Twilight is possibly Ozu’s darkest hour. Of his later films it is unquestionably the most damning of modern Japanese life and takes as it’s central theme the breakdown of the family. Akiko and Takako are daughters of a mother who had an affair and left them to be brought up by their father. Akiko only learns these facts as she finds herself with an unwanted pregnancy, a faithless lover and a life of little satisfaction. Akiko becomes convinced that her fate and her behaviour mean that she can’t be her father’s daughter. Akiko has an abortion and when she returns from the clinic she is faced with Takako’s happy child playing and rumours circulating about her pregnancy. When she learns that Takako has been to see a woman at a mah jong parlour she met she learns that this woman is her mother and seeks her out to question her paternity.
Takako has married a man favoured by her father who has become a drunk and he is bitter towards their child. She realises that Akiko is in trouble but doesn’t seem able to connect with her and sees the tragedy coming. In fact in trying to stop the pain to Akiko she becomes the crucial agent in her fate. Takako’s bitterness to her mother -”You are to blame” – and her refusal to forgive her are tempered by her realising the danger to her child if it is raised by a single parent. Ozu is careful to show the mother as a sympathetic woman who acknowledges her shame and bears the pain of being blamed for Akiko’s death. The mother, in Ozu’s eyes, is not solely to blame.
The blame for Akiko’s tragedy is placed on the world around her. Promiscuity, faithlessness, drunkenness, poverty, gambling, abortions, material gain and prostitution are rife in this Tokyo. In addition the pollution in the air is emphasised with people wearing surgical masks in the streets and Akiko’s death comes because of an incompetent Watchman. This may sound rather damning but the effect of all these things is subtle. When Shukichi meets with his sister she leaves halfway through to make a call on a business deal, and when Akiko finds herself in a late night Coffee Shop shady figures take anxious couples away secretively. These things are the underbelly of the usual Ozu world and Ozu offers little prescription for change. When Takako returns to her husband we know he is still a drunkard and we know Shukichi will be left alone.
Tokyo Twilight is a true masterpiece. Ozu’s courage in making such a dire representation of postwar Japan should not be underestimated. Along with Tokyo Story, this is the best of Ozu.
The Panorama disc is an improvement on their earlier Ozu discs. The transfer is remarkably good if not as sharp as you may expect from a Criterion release. The sound is good and the English Subtitles are excellent.
The extras include a director’s biography and a handbill with production notes.
There is a planned R2 release of this film in an Ozu box set also including Equinox Flower and Good Morning which will probably improve on this disc but for $9, this disc is pretty attractive.