Monday Movie: Tokyo Chorus

2 Mar


Every Monday, we’ll recommend a movie. It could be a classic, an overlooked recent treasure, an unfairly maligned personal favorite or whatever the hell we feel like.

Yausjiro Ozu’s Tokyo Chorus could almost be seen as a long-in-advance rebuttal to Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s newest masterpiece, Two Days, One Night. Whereas, in that film, employees had to be pleaded with before they’d give up even a little for the betterment of one coworker, here, Shinji (Tokihiko Okada) volunteers total sacrifice in what becomes a vain attempt to help an aging cohort retain his station. The title takes on literal meaning towards the end, when Shinji and his former schoolmates sing their anthem, but the spirit of the title is embedded in every frame. One title card introduces Tokyo as a city filled with the unemployed. Before he loses his job, Shinji and his coworkers remark on how U.S. President Hoover’s policies have affected Japan. Their lives belong so little to them, they can’t even blame their own national leadership. Cast to the bottom, the citizens of Japan have nothing else but one another. When he briefly finds work as a sign-holder for a small restaurant, Shinji’s wife tells him how ashamed she was to see him reduced to such a state; he explains his employer is his former schoolteacher, and she immediately volunteers to help. All we can do is strengthen whatever bonds we have. As with most of Ozu’s films, there is little doubt that things will work out for Shinji and his family. The film is about what is lost in the process, what is gained, and the melancholic hardship inherent in only being able to hope things will “work out.”

Tokyo Chorus is available in the Criterion Eclipse box set Silent Ozu: Three Family Comedies, and on their Hulu channel.

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