Tokyo Family

Tokyo Family ★★★★

Given an extremely tough time by the critical majority for daring to emulate and mimic an apparently sacred object. Sure, Yamada's treatment is uneven, quite distant from Tokyo Story's deftness and indelible power. No surprise. We're also talking about a devoted 80-something craftsperson reiterating in the half-manner of an acknowledged master that good-natured, helpful people, filial or otherwise, are the best kind to have near when calamity strikes. Such an insult?

Admittedly, while I'm happy to drift free of historical anchors, sentiment and unconditional embrace of style probably clouds my better judgement. I found obvious warmth applied in the engine-room of the creative re-working, greatly enjoying the inflected re-deployment of Ozu's signature formalism (mid-height camera, positioned between two subjects rather than encompassing both, graphic matching, 90-degree cutting on action, mildly disorienting corridor and upstairs-downstairs interplay, sliding doors revealing new layers of space, gorgeous transition shots). Conversations and performances sometimes don't ring true within the modernised story world, but the awkwardness of the adaptation dissipates fairly innocuously in light of the expert arrangement of small gestures, moments and motifs that together carry meaning, emotion and resonance when later rhymed. There must be a lower limit threshold for tiny moments, but the very small ones do have compelling impact when all around is restrained.

Yamada's formal conduct is selective. He does at times forgo a tribute shot in favour of a more conventional set-up, mostly declines to bring eyelines extremely close to the axis of action, and isn't as tautly structured in his articulation of 360-degree space (suspect partly as a result of the film's more modern production design). It's certainly worth some exploratory analysis to better understand some of the problems or motivations influencing the reasons not to shoot for 'the full Ozu' -- and it wouldn't be at all surprising if circumstances of production (schedule, budget, location issues, Yamada's health) sometimes meant that convenience prevailed over successful homage.