DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
BROTHERS AND SISTERS OF THE TODA FAMILY, THE (TODAKE NO KYODAI) (director/writer: Yasujiro Ozu; screenwriter: Tadao Ikeda; cinematographer: Yuuharu Atsuta;
music: Senji Itô; cast: Hideo Fujino (Shintaro Toda), Ayako Katsuragi (Mrs. Toda), Tatsuo Saito (Shinichiro), Mitsuko Yoshikawa (Chizuru), Mieko Takamino (Setsuko), Shin Saburi (Shojiro), Kuniko Miyake (Kazuko), Masao Hayama (Ryokichi), Yoshiko Tsubouchi (Ayako), Michiko Kuwano (Tokiko), Choko Iida (Kiyo, Maid); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; Panorama Entertyainment; 1941-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)

 
"The earnest wartime family drama is one of the few times Ozu portrayed an upper-class family."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

The first box-office hit for Japan's master filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu ("A Hen In The Wind"/"Tokyo Story"/"Late Spring") is this subtle b/w family film co-written by Ozu and long-time collaborator Tadao Ikeda. The earnest wartime family drama is one of the few times Ozu portrayed an upper-class family. It's about a proud rich family's decline and rise.

After the Toda family clan gathers together to celebrate their patriarch's (Hideo Fujino) 69th birthday in his Tokyo estate, the self-satisfied honest businessman unexpectedly dies from a heart attack afterwards. The family is forced to sell the house because of their dad's business-related debt. This forces the 61-year-old widow Mrs. Toda (Ayako Katsuragi) to live with her married oldest son Shinichiro (Tatsuo Saito)--along with her youngest unmarried daughter Setsuko (Mieko Takamino), her devoted domestic family servant (Choko Iida) and her pet mynah bird. Meanwhile the irresponsible and carefree unmarried youngest son Shojiro (Shin Saburi), the one who gave their father the most worries, takes an important job faraway in the occupied city of Tianjin, China, to try and prove that he's a serious person capable of achieving success. 

It soon becomes apparent that Mom is in the way of Shinichiro's bossy bourgeois wife Kazuko (Kuniko Miyake) and Mom and daughter go to live with her married oldest daughter Chizuru (Mitsuko Yoshikawa), but they are also made to feel unwanted there as the shrill Chizuru objects to the way her mom supposedly spoils her bratty hooky playing young son Ryokichi (Masao Hayama). Instead of moving in with her married daughter Ayako (Yoshiko Tsubouchi), the women decide to move into a dilapidated seaside villa the family couldn't sell because it was deemed worthless.

When Shojiro returns for the first anniversary of his father's death, at a formal dinner after the religious ceremony, he scolds his selfish siblings for treating Mom without warmth and kindness. Back in the villa, a mature Shojiro invites Mom and Setsuko to live with him in China. After they are reassured that he's sincere and that China will offer them new freedoms in breaking with rigid societal conventions (such as the upper-class Setsuko could work as a clerk to support mom without being criticized by her family for shaming them), they accept. Before they leave for China, Shojiro promises to fix sis up with an honorable husband, while she fixes her shy brother up with her decent working-class friend Tokiko (Michiko Kuwano).

For Ozu, in this wartime propaganda film that never mentions the war, the death of the patriarch signals a test of the children's true family values and devotion and whether tradition is completely vanishing in Japanese society. In the chaotic wartime situation, there's certainly a changing of the way traditional life is carried out. We witness the oldest son failing in his responsibility to take care of his mother and that it was only the youngest children who came to the rescue. Setsuko unselfishly and spontaneously acts to care for her Mom, while the self-absorbed Shojiro takes longer to act responsible but, when he becomes determined to do so, he's the strong force who does the right thing in preserving the dying tradition of caring for one's parents in old age. The socially conservative Ozu still pictures a patriarchal society in place, but senses a new Japan is emerging that must not be complacent with a decadent bourgeois lifestyle and their frivolity and wastefulness. The idealistic Shojiro is viewed as Japan's best hope to take his country away from the lingering feudal era and along with the courageous older generation types like his mother, Ozu believes that they will infuse a new spirit into Japanese society so that filial duty would not be stunted by the increasing encroachments of  a corruptible materialistic society. The Toda family ladies still wear kimonos, almost in defiance of all the change around them.

REVIEWED ON 3/17/2010       GRADE: A-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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