Wim Wenders fiction hasn’t always hit home with me and some (like MIllion Dollar Hotel) I found rather dull. So I wasn’t quite sure what to expect about his film essay on Yasujiro Ozu and Tokyo city, the setting for most of Ozu’s films. But I really enjoyed Tokyo-Ga, a meditative film suffused with Ed Lachman’s beautiful images, a hauntingly laconic soundtrack & Wender’s penetrating intellect, always keeping sight of the human behind such seeming strangeness. There are many moments that will stay with me for a long time, especially the moving interview with Ozu’s cameraman, Yuharu Atsuta, in which he reflects on his career-long devotion to the master filmmaker. For us in the West, it’s rare to see such single-minded loyalty to another outside of a religious context, but what Wenders’ coaxes from his interviewee is a deep sense of personal fulfilment, love, and admiration. Here is a man who can make a claim no other filmmaker in the world can: that he served the same director throughout his career first as camera assistant, then camera operator and eventually as director of photography – ‘the dog of a big house’. This could quite easily have been pilloried as self-limiting traditionalist behaviour, but what we’re left with is a moving portrait of an ordinary person who’s found (for a while at least) a real sense of meaning to their life.
Tokyo-Ga is a great companion piece to Chris Marker’s highly reverred film essay San Soleil – which is referred to in the piece and was filmed in Japan at about the same time. It is certainly no less a work, and deserves to find new audiences. I watched it via Lovefilm Instant, but it’s also available via the Criterion Collection and a 10 dvd disc Wenders collection issued by Anchor Bay.