Wim Wenders goes to Japan in a futile quest for "pure" images in TOKYO-GA, a "personal diary" that's part travelogue and part ethnographic study of the Japanese people and their culture, but it's mostly a tribute to the "sacred" films of the great director Yasujiro Ozu (TOKYO STORY).
Searching for the Tokyo as depicted in the films of Yasujiro Ozo, Wim Wenders flies to Japan and records images of the city: highways, traffic, trains, parks, cemeteries, subways, pinball parlors, video arcades, and taxi cabs with TV screens. He visits actor Chishu Ryu, who appeared in numerous
Ozu films and who tells Wenders about the director's precise working methods. They both go to Ozu's grave, which is unmarked, save for a Chinese symbol that signifies "nothingness." Wenders then goes to a rooftop golf driving range, and a factory that manufactures the realistic wax food displays
which are ubiquitous throughout the country. On top of the Tokyo Tower, Wenders runs into fellow German filmmaker Werner Herzog, who laments the dearth of "truthful" images in the world. After observing a group of Japanese teens who dress like 1950s "greasers" and dance to American rock 'n' roll,
Wenders talks with Yuharu Atsuta, Ozu's longtime cameraman, who discusses the technical details of Ozu's simplified shooting style and demonstrates by using a camera and a specially designed low tripod.
By bookending the half-comical, half-horrified images of the modern, mechanized Tokyo with lengthy scenes from TOKYO STORY (1953), Wenders demonstrates that the city and the people portrayed in Ozu's films are not only long gone, they might never have existed at all, except in the heart and mind
of Ozu. As Wenders observes, perhaps his serene films about the disintegration of the Japanese family were simply an attempt to create order out of a disorderly world. Wenders's analysis of the "transparent" beauty of Ozu's films is penetrating, but his attempt to extract a larger philosophical
and sociological significance by contrasting the purity of Ozu's images with the overload of "junk" images of the current Tokyo, with its garish neon lights and omnipresent flickering TV sets showing baseball and American films, is not as successful (with typical symbolic overkill, Wenders decides
that American culture is poisoning the world after watching a dubbed John Wayne movie in his hotel room, forgetting that he fell in love with the same culture by watching Frank Tashlin-Nicholas Ray-Samuel Fuller movies while he was growing up in Germany).
The film is most interesting and effective during the extended interviews with Chishu Ryu and Yuharu Atsuta. Not only are they highly informative about Ozu's working methods (he would demonstrate how the actors should say their lines and they would copy him exactly; he always used a 50mm lens, and
would use a stopwatch to time each take and shot, even inserts), but they are also very touching, as Ryu and a tearful Atsuta both display their reverence for the man they considered to be a "king." TOKYO-GA is another of Wenders's sometimes fuzzy, but always fascinating, inquiries into the nature
of images and the search for moments of truth in the cinema in a world that's becoming increasingly controlled by artificial representations of reality.
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- Released: 1985
- Rating: NR
- Review: Wim Wenders goes to Japan in a futile quest for "pure" images in TOKYO-GA, a "personal diary" that's part travelogue and part ethnographic study of the Japanese people and their culture, but it's mostly a tribute to the "sacred" films of the great director… (more)