Today’s Double Bill: Tokyo Story + Viridiana

Earlier this morning I watched Yasujirô Ozu’s Tokyo Story (1953) in my Japanese Cinema college class. I had never seen it before, although I already had a deep appreciation of Ozu thanks to my viewings of Late Spring (1949), Equinox Flower (1958) and The End of Summer (1961) last year. While Late Spring may remain my favorite Ozu film, Tokyo Story is indeed a masterpiece. I can’t deny that I cried throughout the film, although I was ready for that possibility with tissues. (I know myself too well to go into Tokyo Story without the necessary preparation.) I cannot say enough great things about Setsuko Hara (pictured above), who was really one of the greatest actresses of the twentieth century, either from Japan or anywhere else. Her true genius lies in her expressive face: through most of Tokyo Story she smiles radiantly from ear to ear, but when her character’s façade breaks and she cries, you feel the pain as swiftly and truly as she does.

Three other great actresses – Chieko Higashiyama, Haruko Sugimura and Kyôko Kagawa – appear in the film, as does Ozu’s oft-used actor, Chishû Ryû (also pictured above). Perhaps most moving of all is the score composed by Takanobu Saito. It will make you emotional before the opening credits have even finished rolling.

Viridiana, on the other hand, which I saw with a friend this afternoon at the Museum of the Moving Image, is not great. (It’s another film I had never seen before.) I’m not a fan of Luis Buñuel, but at least this film is better than his cruel and depressing documentary short Land Without Bread (1933). The story of a young nun and her dealings with her family as well as the unfortunate souls she tries to help, Viridiana is at its best in the first half hour or so, while Viridiana’s uncle is in the film. The film makes great use of non-diegetic sound (sound coming from a visible source within the film): the uncle, played very well by Fernando Rey, plays the organ and also likes to listen to LPs of classical music on a hi-fi. (Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” plays throughout the film.) The rest of the film without Rey, however, is severely lacking. For a while Viridiana is not in the film, which instead shows a banquet scene that she is not involved in. While I appreciated the use of music and the cinematography by José F. Aguayo, it will probably be some time before I revisit Viridiana.

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