Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Toronto Story

Last week, my wife and I went to a screening of Yasujiro Ozu’s 1953 family drama Tokyo Story (東京物語). That this is a touchstone of Japanese cinema goes almost without saying; its standing, both in terms of influence and audience affection, is comparable to that of Casablanca or Citizen Kane. One could go on at book length trying to plumb its depths or savor its subtleties, looking at everything from the low-key way Ozu frames his narrative to how its depiction of the city life/country life dichotomy reflects the division between “old” and “new” Japan.

What struck me, however, was the universal family dynamic underlying Ozu’s story. At root, Tokyo Story is about expectations — what parents hope for in their children, and how distant that can be from what those children hope for themselves. Some of that is standard enough to be the stuff of cliché, as when elderly Shukishi Hirayama (Chishu Ryu), in from the country with his wife to visit their grown-up children in Tokyo, sits with old friends over sake and discusses his disappointment with his children. But the sly, heartbreaking conclusion shows that parents aren’t the only ones who are disappointed with the way life turns out.

That resonated in unexpected ways the following evening, when I spent my first night as a parent. Exhilarated and exhausted, I found myself thinking of all the possibilities that stretched before my newborn son, and — like most parents, I suppose — began to think of things from my own life that Hugh (with the benefit of my guidance) could do better or more successfully.

And then I flashed on the final image of Noriko (Setsuko Hara), Hirayama’s daughter-in-law, from the film. Noriko is in many ways the film’s most admirable character — sweet-tempered, generous, considerate, forgiving and wise. And yet she, too, is weighed down by expectations, feeling like a fraud and failure because she can’t quite reach the bar she has set for herself. Seeing the tears on her sweetly smiling face in that scene is quite literally heartbreaking, and in remembering it, I suddenly became acutely aware of the burdens a parent can unwittingly inflict on their spawn. I was left chastened, and slightly ashamed.

I don’t imagine any parent can completely banish selfishness in trying to guide their offspring into adulthood; parenthood itself, after all, is deeply connected to the selfish desire to keep one’s genes replicating. But I hope that, as the years pass, I can keep Noriko’s tears in mind, and make whatever burden I impart as light
as possible.

Well, that was the most roundabout birth announcement I've ever read! Congratulations, JD, to your whole new family and unto the next generation.
Carl (Zoilus)
Well, thank you Carl! I've been trying to resist the temptation to blog about my INCREDIBLY CUTE, ULTRA-LOVABLE, MOST ADORABLE CHILD EVER!!!! and thought this would be a good way to resist temptation. But your kind wishes are much appreciated.
Mucho congrats on the offspring!
love to baby c.
congratsorama! hope your wife is recovering well.
(sorry if i ended up posting twice. this is confusing)
last one was tamara again
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