Once again Ozu welcomes viewers "home" with familiar low angle establishing shots of distant apartments framed by power lines as a ubiquitous train passes, but Tokyo Twilight (Tokyo boshoku) soon hints at its darker side. On a frigid winter night Mr. Sugiyama (Chishu Ryu) strides down an empty alleyway into a noodle shop for dinner—something he would have rarely done in traditional family life. His wife walked out years ago, leaving him to raise two daughters: older daughter Takako (Setsuko Hara) is unhappily married while younger daughter Akiko (Ineko Arima) spends most of her time looking for her boyfriend Keiji.
When Sugiyama returns home, he is surprised to see Takako waiting for him. Family dysfunction is plainly evident, as she avoids explaining why she has no immediate plans to return to her husband or infant daughter. Hints of alcoholism are brought out, and Sugiyama expresses regret for arranging the marriage instead of making arrangements to match his dutiful daughter with another man that she fancied.
The broken family unit has even more profound effects on Akiko. She has adopted more western manners and customs, indicated by her clothing, musical tastes, and general attitude. Non-communicative and sullen at home, she becomes a frequent visitor to Tokyo's "twilight" decadence of late night bars, gambling halls, and mahjong parlors. At one of these establishments, she meets a woman who claims to have been a neighbor of theirs many years ago, but her extreme familiarity leads Akiko to rightly suspect that the woman is her mother.
Elements of melodrama dominate this Ozu film. Takako explains her younger sister's rebellious, depressive state on the fact that she never had a mother to raise her—of course reflecting on her own experience, and eventually affecting her own family situation. Abandonment issues continue to haunt Akiko as she desperately seeks her irresponsible boyfriend. When she finally tracks him down to discuss her personal crisis, all he can do is wallow in self-pity and indifference. Thus, the plot denouement in this darkest of Ozu dramas plays out predictably.
Appropriately the last black and white Ozu film, Tokyo Twilight maintains his signature style despite its tragic melancholy. Once again Ozu examines the post-war Japanese family in transition, with some family members retaining more tradition than others. Beautifully photographed and framed, the story flows naturally and gently and retains hope. This family unit is undergoing extreme pain, yet we know that life will go on—that after every bitter winter comes a spring, summer, and fall. It doesn't rank among his strongest works, but even an "ordinary" Ozu film remains far more watchable that the glut of commercial releases, and we can be thankful to The Criterion Collection for making it part of their Late Ozo box set.
Note: Other movies included in the Eclipse box set:
End of Summer, The