This need to explain to us what is happening and treat the audience as if it had been taking naps during the film irritates me, and makes me hesitant to agree with the general consensus that Tokyo Story is a really great film, one of the very best. Another thing about Tokyo Story is how transparent it is that the mother will soon succumb to some unspecified illness. It is there from the beginning and clearly sign-posted repeatedly. Its alleged inspiration, Leo McCarey's remarkable Make Way For Tomorrow (1937), is actually more subtle, and for me the better film.
Yet when critics write about Tokyo Story they see it differently. Here is for example Roger Ebert, who says that one of Ozu's strength is his way of "removing the machinery of effects and editing and choosing to touch us with human feeling, not workshop storytelling technique." But is not the opposite the case, and is not Tokyo Story actually very much an example of "workshop storytelling technique" by Ozu and his longtime co-writer Kogo Noda? This is not to deny that there are also many examples of subtlety. For example, in the opening scene when the couple is packing they have an argument about an air cushion. That says a lot about their relationship, without in anyway being explicit. As with my earlier comments about The Searchers (1956), I would not mind these issues I have with Tokyo Story if the film was not so good. But now they get in the way.
Finally, I have seen some 15 of Ozu's films and although it is hard to choose between them, if I had to pick one as my favourite, it would be I Was Born, But (1932). It is close to sublime.
In an earlier post I wrote about the common but bad habit of comparing everything to Hollywood, and this tendency is something that is a consistent problem when it comes to Yasujiro Ozu as well. When critics and historians discuss him it is almost always focussed on how he had a unique style that was "the complete opposite of Hollywood" (as if all Hollywood films were in the same style), but it is much rarer to see comparisons between Ozu and for example Mikio Naruse or Sadao Yamanaka, even though that would be more apt.