schill at gol.com
Tue Oct 28 22:53:07 EST 1997
Re Frances loden's comments on "Tokyo Biyori"
1) The "semi-deranged woman" and "the fascist cult leader" on the subway
are not man and wife.
2) The "facist cult leader" is an actor in costume.
3) The "rally" is a play in which the actor is performing.
4) Yoko does not "moulder at home." She works at a travel agency and is, in
fact, supporting her husband.
5) Yoko's "liaison with a younger man" amounts to a few brief encounters in
a public park in broad daylight, all initiated by the younger man and all
of which come to nothing.
6) Yoko is not "pushed into unconventional behavior with her husband"; She
is the first to notice that the rock is shaped like a piano. She is also
the first to go to it and begin "playing" it.
As to my own reading of the film, here's my review that appeared in the JT.
The failing marriage is a common enough movie theme, the happy
marriage is not. There is, as any glinty-eyed producer will tell you, not a
lot of box office in domestic bliss. Naoto Takenaka must have known that
when he became enthralled with a photo book titled "Yoko" by Nobuyoshi
Araki filled with loving portraits of the photographer's wife, who had died
of cancer in 1990. But being an incorrigible sentimentalist, he decided to
make a movie about their marriage anyway, commercial considerations be
Ironically, that movie, "Tokyo Biyori" (which has no official English
title, but might be rendered as "Tokyo Fair Weather"), is now playing to
standing-room-only crowds. Takenaka has made his gamble pay off, not only
commercially but artistically. His on-screen marriage is definitely happy,
but not, thankfully, blissful (two hours of two people cooing sweet
nothings would have been unbearable) while his story, is filled with the
small crises that may have the undramatic randomness of life but reveal
character, arouse empathy.
Though his principals may not resemble anyone we know -- it would be
hard, I think, to find many other turbulent spirits quite like Yoko --
their feelings for each other, from playful rapture to unconcealed
exasperation, ring true. Also, though Takenaka's portrait of a marriage may
go gooey in places -- we get a bit too much of Yoko running in beautiful
slo mo with an ecstatic expression plastered on her face -- it mostly gets
it right, including the intimate, revealing details that outsiders to a
relationship seldom see. By the end we understand why the film's Araki
doppleganger, a struggling freelance photographer named Shimazu (Naoto
Takenaka), remained so devoted to a woman who would try the patience of
saint and why Yoko (Miho Nakayama) always returned to him after her
wanderings, both mental and physical.
Told almost entirely in flashback, the story begins after Shimazu
quits his job at an ad agency to spend his days wandering about Tokyo
taking photos of everything from street signs to snoring commuters. To pay
the rent, his wife Yoko works as a clerk at a small travel agency. But this
family pillar, we soon see, is the type of woman that the polite used to
call high strung, that the impolite would today label a flake. When Shimazu
invites a group of former colleagues to their apartment for dinner and Yoko
mistakenly calls an earnest young editor named Mizutani (Takako Matsu),
Taniguchi, her faux pas reduces her to a querulous wreck. Soon she and
Shimazu are having a shouting match and the party has turned into a
This incident, though minor in itself, is the first in a series of
dominos to fall. After a dinner table spat with Shimazu, Yoko disappears.
When Shimazu inquires about her at the travel agency, her boss tells him
she has taken a leave of absence, ostensibly to care for Shimazu's injuries
in a fictional traffic accident. After three days, he walks in the door to
find a boy playing in the living room and Yoko bustling about the kitchen,
acting as though nothing had happened. The kid, who calls Yoko obaasan
(grandmother) for reasons known only to the six-year-old mind, lives in the
same building. Yoko has taken him in much as she might a stray kitten.
Soon she is playing strange games with the boy, trying to dress him,
despite his protests, in girl's clothes. One night Shimazu comes home to
find the boy's mother outside his building; the boy has not come home and
she is worried. Shimazu hurries to a nearby park where he and Yoko had once
shared an idyllic moment at a large piano-shaped rock. There he finds his
wife abjectly pleading with the boy -- now dressed in girl's clothes and
begging to go home -- to stay with her. He interrupts this psychodrama,
but there is, inevitably, more to come.
If this sounds like a later day version of "A Woman Under the
Influence," the John Cassavetes masterpiece about a housewife's descent
into madness, it is not. Despite her departures from the social norm, Yoko
never slips over the border into dangerous weirdness or outright psychosis.
And despite all the aggravations and provocations, Shimazu never falls out
of sympathy with his wife. The marriage survives the loss of her job and
her brief encounter with a hunky young admirer (Tadanobu Asano). Finally.
Shimazu takes her to the quiet countryside ryokan where they spent their
honeymoon. There they rediscover a measure of tranquillity and a delight in
each other's company. For them, we understand, "meant for each other" was
not a tired cliché, but an inescapable reality.
In "Tokyo Biyori," Takenaka largely abandons the pawky humor so
abundant in his first two films -- the 1991 "Muno no Hito" and the 1994
"119" -- while retaining his affection for the out-of-the-way corners of
Japan that time has forgot, photographed in warmly atmospheric greens and
browns. He also preserves the gentleness of spirit that makes his earlier
films such a pleasure to be in. His Shimazu is less a clone of Araki, who
is best known for his raw, shocking depictions of female nudity, than a
continuation of other Takenaka characters who, whatever their foibles, have
a kindly, even worshipful, affection for the women in their lives.
Interestingly, Shimazu's marriage to Yoko is portrayed as virtually sexless
-- in the entire film there is not a single bed scene or even hot look. The
perfect couple in Takenaka's world is the artist and model: he passionately
dreaming his ideal in his work, she glorying in his reverence and love,
with the camera in between, creating the necessary distance.
Mark Schilling (schill at gol.com)
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