Tokyo Biyori

Frances Loden frako
Tue Oct 28 21:53:00 EST 1997

I saw "Tokyo Biyori" (directed and starring Takenaka Naoto, 1997) yesterday
at a midday screening at Cine Saison Shibuya.  It was a full house.   The
film also stars Nakayama Miho and, in tiny roles, veteran actresses Kuga
Yoshiko and Fujimura Shiho.

I haven't read Photographer Araki Nobuyoshi's book _Tokyo Biyori_ (which
could be translated, as Mark Schilling suggests, "Tokyo Fair Weather"), but
I have seen a lot of Araakii's photography.  What both the photos and the
film have in common is an egotistical but superficial focus on the artist,
not the female who is set so squarely in the foreground.  I suspect that
some of the inexplicable lionization of Araakii has to do with his status
as a widower, and this film adds to that legendry.

It's established from the beginning that Shimazu, the photographer, has a
curiosity and eye for things that more conventional people don't.  He loves
to take spontaneous photos of his wife, associates, things people take for
granted in the city, and strangers dozing on trains.  We are asked to
believe that he is the innocent victim of a semi-deranged middle-aged woman
who notices him surreptitiously snapping away on the subway with his
Rolleiflex.  This woman shouts at him from the other end of the car and
chases him down the aisle, falling flat on her face.  Later she takes him
to the police for taking pictures of her husband, who turns out to be some
fascist cult leader.

At first Shimazu is indignant at this treatment by her and the police, but
his natural curiosity for humanity is encouraged by Yoko, his wife, who
suggests he go see this Nazi guy at some rally.  While waiting in line to
enter the rally, Shimazu and Yoko are approached by a fan, who asks him for
his autograph and her for a handshake.  We never learn about the Nazi rally
or any of the supposedly interesting people and things about Tokyo.  It's
just an occasion to realize that Shimazu is already developing a cult
following of his own.  I seriously doubt that Takenaka or Araakii himself
was trying to make this connection, however.  That would have been too
"deep" for either of them.

Just because Shimazu attempts an occasional conversation with Yoko and
doesn't abandon her, we are supposed to swallow whole the proud claim by
one of his followers that he actually loves his wife.  Meanwhile, Yoko is
mouldering at home with nothing to do but wait for him to return.  All we
really see is not so much love and respect as patience, condescension, and
suffering on Shimazu's part.  Every little tantrum, blow-up, sulkfest or
crying jag inflicted by Yoko is not an opportunity to study what life has
done to her as the wife of a Japanese "creative artist," but as yet another
test for the saintly husband.  In her happy, lucid moments (just a
question, but why is she considered "normal" only when she's smiling?) she
is photographed as if her beauty compensated for all the suffering Shimazu
must go through to keep her.

During their happy times they jog in the rain and "play" a duet on a rock
shaped like a piano.  I guess this is to show how imaginative and creative
they are as a couple.  This scene was as embarrassing as when the poor
people pretend to eat dinner in Ozu's "Tokyo no Yado" (An Inn in Tokyo) or
the young people conjure up a full orchestra in Kurosawa's "Subarashiki
Nichiyoubi" (One Wonderful Sunday), but those scenes were compelled by some
real privation.  This one was contrived simply to show how, when she is
pushed into unconventional behavior with her husband, Yoko can know the
heights of happiness.

Without him, of course, she is at a complete loss--in fact, dangerously
close to insanity.  If Shimazu leaves her alone, she is liable to fall into
a liaison with a younger man, bully a small boy into wearing girls'
clothes, get lost in a country village and, exhausted, end up falling
asleep inside a boat.  She's no good by herself.  She needs that patient,
saintly, artistic husband to keep her going.

The film was coy about sex, and I don't know why.  It should have been part
of the equation, since what passes for sex is the theme of so much of the
photographer's work, and they are a loving married couple, after all.  I
found the coyness a little cowardly.

Although we do get to see Yoko get hit by a truck and all bandaged up, we
are spared the diagnosis of her illness and eventual death except by
voiceover report.  This was an immense relief to me and a credit to
Takenaka or whoever decided not to portray these events.  As far as I was
concerned, she was already dead (especially since most of the film is a
series of flashbacks).  She was a pretty portrait but not existing for her
own sake.  She was just a reminder of the husband who put up with so much
from her before he lost her.

A more interesting film for me would have been one in which the artist is
portrayed as the sexually insecure, derivative, unimaginative,
hiding-behind-the-woman voyeur he really is, and how even this many years
after her death he is still profiting off his wife while making out to be
some kind of pious bereaved.

I guess my main complaint about this film is that, for all it was trying to
be a loving portrait of a marriage, only the husband is left to speak his
side of the story, and we never get a complete portrait.  In addition,
there's no attempt to investigate why the wife regresses into infantile
behavior--the incidents are used only to demonstrate how lucky she is that
she has a patient, "understanding" husband who also happens to be a "great"

Meanwhile, on TV they are shilling this film by having Takenaka and
Nakayama visit his favorite places in Hakone.  (In the film, the characters
restore their marriage by visiting their honeymoon inn in Kyushu.  The
19th-century inn is photographed lovingly, and I'm sure it's already
experiencing a mad rush of tourists.)  At a temple some bonze lectures them
on the proper behavior of a real, loving married couple.  The camera zooms
in on Nakayama's face and, in case we can't see it ourselves, notifies us
by subtitle that tears are welling in her eyes.

It's been a while since I've seen "Woman Under the Influence" or "Diary of
a Mad Housewife" or "When a Man Loves a Woman"--I'm trying to think of all
the troubled-housewife movies!--but I seem to remember that most of them
focused at least equally on the woman's feelings herself as well as those
of the beleaguered husband.  I admired parts of "Shi no toge" (The Sting of
Death, Oguri Kouhei, 1990), which was also about an artist's wife falling

Frako Loden
Tokyo, Japan
(03) 3247-5332
Keitai: 010-04-97072

More information about the KineJapan mailing list