Tokyo Biyori

Mark Schilling schill
Sun Nov 2 12:48:13 EST 1997

Yes, by all means, let's get the discussion back to the film itself. 

Aaron seems to think that Tokyo Biyori was a cake that failed to rise. I
quite understand his point about the difficulty of basing on a film on a
real marriage, especially one as long and emotionally complex as Araki's. I
felt that, to do his subject justice, Takenaka should have taken the
approach of Bergman in "Scenes From a Marriage": i.e., give us the whole
megilla, even if took 168 minutes -- the running time of the feature
version of "Scenes," which was in turn edited from a six-part TV series. 
    As it stands, the film does not adequately explain Yoko -- who is a by
far more complex and central character than her husband. Why, for example,
does she have the fixation with dressing the boy in girl's clothes? One
could argue that this fixation is simply a sign of her overall immaturity,
that she sees the boy as, not an autonomous individual, but a doll she
wants to dress. The scene at the piano rock, however, argues for a more
nuanced interpretation, that the boy is not only a living Ken doll, but a
stand-in for her husband. When the boys begs to go home, she reacts as
though Shimazu had announced he was about to abandon her. Why does she
feels so hugely threatened? The movie does not satisfactorilly suggest an
answer and we are left to guess.
     But though the film is more impressionistic sketches of a marriage
than a full-length portrait, it does, I think, succeed in capturing the
texture of Shimazu and Yoko's marriage and showing us why, despite
everything, Shimazu felt that it was a happy one. That success is why it is
drawing crowds; audiences leave the theater feeling good, cerrtainly, but
not patronized or manipulated. Yes, Takenaka gives his portrait of a
marriage a rosy glow that some might interpret as male egotism, but there
is also a sincerity and sheer likability that shines through. Also, though
framed as Shimazu's reminiscence of his wife, the film is only marginally
told from his point of view. the idealized woman we see in his portrait on
the veranda is not always the woman we see on the screen. 
     I also understand Aaron's dissatisfaction with Miho Nakayama; a Liv
Ullmann she is not. But I also think that she did a more than adequate job
in a difficult role. She succeeded in showing us why Yoko both maddened and
entranced Shimazu, while reconciling the extremes of her character into a
credible whole. Despite her tarento background, Nakayama never impresses as
merely childishly cute or winsomely pathetic.She, instead, comes across as
quite aware that, sexually, her Yoko represents a tremendous catch for
Takenaka's Shimazu. Her Yoko is also quite credible when she makes
Shimazu's life difficult; one would rather dread the thought of incurring
Nakayama's wrath or scorn in real life. She would, I think, make a
supremely successful Ginza club mama; the customers would be in her thrall,
the hostesses, under her thumb.
Mark Schilling (schill at 

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