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TOKYO-GA(aka: TOKYO IMAGES)(director/writer: Wim Wenders; cinematographer: Ed Lachman; editors: Jon Neuburger/Wim Wenders/Solveig Dommartin; music: ”Dick Tracy”/Loorie Petitgand/Meche Mamecier/Chico Rojo Ortega; cast: Chishu Ryu, Yuharu Atsuta, Werner Herzog; Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Chris Sievernich; Anchor Bay; 1985-West Germany/USA-in English, Japanese and German with English subtitles)
Wonderfully absurd hero-worshiping homage toYasujiro Ozu.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Wim Wenders (”Alice in the Cities”/”The American Friend“/”Chambre 666“)directs this wonderfully absurd hero-worshiping homage toYasujiro Ozu (1903-1963), Japan’s great filmmaker and one of the world’s best. In the spring of 1983, Wenders came to Tokyo with the purpose of seeing if the Tokyo he recalled from Ozu’s films still existed. Instead he found a modern westernized city, a place that was much different from the master’s films.

Wenders visits the cemetery where Ozu is buried (noting only the Chinese symbol Mu on his tombstone, denoting emptiness), pachinko parlors, golf driving ranges, a factory that makes the wax replicas of Japanese food that are displayed in windows of Tokyo restaurants, and a park gathering of Elvis impersonators and teenage rock dancers. Taking in the nightlife at Ginza, Wenders runs into French filmmaker Chris Marker in the La Jetee bar (also the title of his 1962 film). At the Tokyo Towers, Wenders runs into bitchy fellow German filmmaker Werner Herzog and interviews him at the rooftop.

The film’s highlights are two long interviews with the likable octogenarian Ozu stalwarts Chishu Ryu and Yuharu Atsuta. Leading man Chishu Ryu is gateful Ozu chose him, saying he doubts if he would have become a star otherwise. He tells of Ozu’s long rehearsals and how he emptied himself of his thoughts to do only what Ozu wanted, having so much trust in him. Camera operator Yuharu Atsuta started out as an assistant cameraman in silents and after 15 years was promoted to cameraman, in which he worked the next 25 years only for Ozu. Atsuta worked for Ozu from the beginning to the end. He tells us Ozu was a special director who cared about his crew and was a man of few words, who knew how he wanted the film shot and ran a controlled set. We’re told Ozu preferred shooting inside, as he was bothered by observers during location shots. That Ozu would check out locations only by foot, and would laugh about that eccentricity saying “they would only stop looking when they passed out.” The outside shots were mostly of trains, something Ozu had to have in every picture. Overwhelmed with his memories, the gentle Atsuta breaks down and sobs expressing how fortunate he was to work for such a great man.

Tokyo-Ga gets over as a filmed diary, that’s more like a home movie. Though it offers some fascinating ruminations on Ozu, that his fans will eat up, if you’re not a fan of Ozu you most likely won’t appreciate it.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”