Starring: Tokihiko Okada, Emiko Yagumo, Hideo Sugawara
Director: Yasujirō Ozu
Running Time: 90 mins
Tokyo Chorus is a Japanese film about a businessman who struggles to support both himself and his family after having lost his job for standing up for a colleague.
As far as silent movies go, Tokyo Chorus isn’t my favourite. Whilst it has some good moments, it’s not a film that really excels in delivering either a truly emotional or funny watch. Sometimes stuck in two minds between its comedic and dramatic elements, at others starkly dramatic, I was often more frustrated with this film than I wanted to be.
However, before I get into that, I need to say what I enjoyed about this film. Above all, it does do well at delivering a clear message about the modern world. Almost an American Beauty 70 years before its time, Tokyo Chorus gives an intriguing image and criticism of the trivialities of modern life, and how bureaucracy and newly-discovered capitalism is hurting people across the country.
And what’s also great is that it doesn’t really matter whether your own political views fall into line with that. At its heart, this film is a story about frustration with unfair rules and systems, and centres on the emotional effects of that on normal, everyday people, a theme that comes through brilliantly on one or two occasions, representing the very best of the film’s drama.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t so much else about this film that really impressed me. Whilst that central theme comes through well on a couple of occasions, the majority of the film is nowhere near as effective as it needs to be, failing to really deliver the emotional exhaustion that our main character suffers as he falls deeper and deeper into a dark hole of unemployment, verging on the edge of poverty.
As the film goes on, everything becomes a lot darker and more tiring, but I never felt that same effect. Whilst I was able to sympathise with the main character, the film’s often meandering and languishing approach to the man’s continual decline just isn’t engrossing to watch over the course of just 90 minutes, heavily impacting on my interest of the film.
One other issue here is the awkward split between comedy and drama. Something that silent movies can actually do very well is turn abruptly from light-hearted entertainment to darker drama, thanks to a simple shift in the score and a clear visual transition.
What disappointed me about this film, however, is that it never felt like it knew where it wanted to stand. Yes, there are great dramatic moments, and there are also some good laughs along the way, but the combination of the two is often far too messy to really give the film a consistent air, another problem that hurt my interest of the developing story.
Overall, whilst Tokyo Chorus has a choice few great moments, it’s a film that doesn’t really impress when trying to deliver a both entertaining and emotional watch. A clear central theme it may have, but the surrounding elements unfortunately don’t manage to emulate that throughout, making for an often frustrating watch, and that’s why I’m giving it a 6.8.