9. Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu, 1953)
I was trying to explain to somebody the other day what I love about The Replacements, but I don’t think I did a very good job. For the unwashed masses who know nothing of 1980’s indy rock, The Replacements were a Minnesota punk band famous for lead singer Paul Westerberg‘s tremendous lyrics, and their sloppy brand of rock and roll. They never really made it as big as a lot of people thought they should have, and their legacy is as much their music as their incredible ability to fuck things up. And their ability to fuck things up is I think their greatest charm.
But what made their fuck ups beautiful was that they were conscious fuck ups, orchestrated by the band in order to resist the trappings of success. If they were playing a show in front of a bunch of A&R types, the band would get really drunk and play as sloppy and incoherent as possible. When the band finally signed to a major label in 1985, they released their first video for “Bastards of Young“. Instead of making a video that featured the band, they simply filmed a speaker playing the song. When they performed on SNL that same year, they got really drunk on champagne, antagonized the cast, and then Paul Westerberg proceeded to mouth a silent “fuck you” during their performance, an act that earned them an informal ban from the show. They would play arena shows and play mostly covers, or they would just change the lyrics to their own songs, or sometimes combine covers with their own songs. Anything to annoy. They were consciously trying to alienate anyone who wasn’t willing to accept them as is. Their hardcore fans loved the act, but the general public never could grasp what the hell they were doing.
The beauty in all of this, is that the band realized it was all a big joke. They knew they were only going to be exploited by the mainstream, so they just made it as difficult as possible for anyone to see them as a viable commodity. By perpetuating their reputation as unreliable and unpredictable goofs, they were able to avoid all the bullshit of success. They resisted where most others wouldn’t. To me that is a beautiful thing in that they stood their ground even if it cost them a chance at stardom. Even if I can’t comprehend their motivations entirely, I still admire them and what they did.
So on to “Tokyo Story“, which I will preface with Justin’s 1st rule of cinema: Old Asian people depicted on film are awesome(they are also awesome in real life to varying degrees). Basically the story of the film is this: a retired husband and wife who live in a small village in Japan travel to the big city(Tokyo) to visit their adult children. For various reasons none of the children really spend anytime with their parents, viewing them more as a burden than a blessing. The only person who seems to care is their son’s widow, Noriko, played by Setsuko Hara (who is famous for both her roles in Ozu’s films and her later reclusive nature, for which she is known as the “Greta Garbo of Japan”), who welcomes them into her home, and acts much more like a obedient daughter than their selfish children. Eventually the children decide to send their parents to some mountain spa for relaxation, but the mother gets sick, and eventually the parents return to their village. The mother gets sick and dies, and the children all feign concern at her funeral, but seem anxious to get on with their lives. The widow again is the only one who shows consideration for the father and seems genuinely grieved at his loss. End movie.
So what does this have to do with the Replacements? Well the final scene involves a conversation between the youngest daughter and Noriko, in which the daughter chastises her siblings for being so selfish and inconsiderate. Noriko responds by noting that the children have their own lives, and that everyone becomes like that, even stating that she too will be like that. The daughter then asks Noriko: “Isn’t life disapointing?” to which Noriko responds with a bittersweet smile “Yes, it is”. That realization and the beauty of it is the message of the film. Life will let you down, people will screw up, and you aren’t exempt from these things. And that I think is the beauty of the Replacements, they fully understood what life is about, they knew they couldn’t please everybody, so why try.
And now I am back where I started. I love the Replacements because of how they lived their lives, and I love this film(and Noriko) because of what it says about life. But to quote Paul Westerberg: “I don’t begin to understand”.
On filmaffinity.com I gave this film an 8/10, as I only am beginning to understand it, mainly through reading about it. I think I would need to rewatch it to give a more appropriate rating.