Tokyo Family

Tokyo Family ★★★½

Despite a lengthy career, Yoji Yamada is virtually unknown in the West, in particular here in the States, and yet a few years ago I was able to stumble across his Kyoto Story, a low-stakes romance that serves as something of a throwback to the melodramas of the 1950s. (For those who are unsure how such a film would look or behave in modern times, think Hallmark but Japanese.)

Kyoto Story has since been one of my comfort films, as there's a quaintness present that I find oddly-affecting, so when I stumbled across another one of Yamada's films - this one - I thought I'd give it a watch as well. While preparing for Tokyo Family, I quickly learned that it is actually a modernization of Ozu's Tokyo Story, which was in itself a remake of the 1937 film, Make Way For Tomorrow.

The film's overall presentation and tone may be a little old-fashioned or corny for most contemporary audiences, especially when compared with something like Kore-eda's Still Walking; however, I found myself enjoying this one quite a bit, even if it lacks the punch of the Ozu classic.

I personally think the diminished impact is heavily due to Noriko being reduced to more of a supporting role, as her husband is still very much alive - an odd decision considering that it effectively strips the final acts of quite a bit of thematic material. And yet! In the film's final minutes, she still somehow becomes the film's emotional center. This is no doubt due to Yu Aoi's general likability and some interesting choices she makes, elevating the character beyond what was presumably written on the page.

I'm not sure if I'd recommend this one for casual audiences, though, as it may be a little "too Japanese" for most, but then again, critics said the same thing about Tokyo Story upon its release.

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