In Tokyo Story, we follow an old couple traveling from Onomichi to Tokyo to visit their grown-up children. In my eyes, this journey is not about a new adventure to explore the metropolitan Tokyo but rather an attempt to return, returning to a “home” that the old couple once shared with their children. However, the old couple’s journey is actually a journey without destination. Such a sense of “home” is deeply rooted in the old couple’s memory but sadly not in their children’s. They fail to return to this “home” when living with (shuffling by) their children in Tokyo. To this old couple, Tokyo becomes a city too far away, a city with too many people, a city they cannot truly find a sense of belonging.
Ozu, like us viewers, also accompanied this old couple along their journey. To him, born and raised in Tokyo, this is actually a journey home. However, was he also riding a train leading to nowhere? The Tokyo in front of Ozu’s camera, which was rebuilt after the earthquake and bombings, was not the same hometown he cherished in his memory. Ozu, an aged man himself, was taking a train back home to Tokyo. During the trip, he came to realize that his hometown Tokyo could no longer be reached in real life. Therefore, he got off the train and started to walk towards his memory. By using very limited shots of contemporary Tokyo scenery, he wished to preserve or reconstruct the old Tokyo in his and older generation’s memory. For viewers who do not own these fragments of memories, Ozu offered a chance to get a glimpse of the city’s vibe through displaying its domestic settings. In this way, the director could revive his memory to a maximum extent on the silver screen.
As the journey continues, it seems like that it no longer matters whether there is a destination or not. Realizing their children could possibly turn out to be worse, the old couple starts to accept what they have in life with grateful hearts. When they make the decision to go back to their home in Onomichi, sitting on the seawall in Atami. Their figures are seen melting into the nature, peacefully and harmoniously.
The film starts with a shot of a river running through the frame; it ends with a shot of the same river running through it. These two scenes echo on the screen, as if saying that all the gatherings, separations, laughter, and tear would be drifted out into the ocean of time. And those drifting movements are patiently recorded by Ozu’s stationary camera.