Before this Internet age in which we live, we all had to work a bit harder. It wasn’t quite so simple or direct as the tap of a button, the click of a mouse or the swipe of a touchscreen to access the deepest, darkest secrets of our heroes and inspirations. The artists that touched us were able to maintain more mystery. But in 1985, Wim Wenders had to dig a bit deeper. For his documentary Tokyo-Ga he boards a plane and travels around the world to experience Tokyo first-hand after years of watching and experiencing the city through the lens of legendary filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu.
Wenders defines the film as a diary of his trip and that’s exactly what it is. We, the viewers, spend countless minutes observing people in a pachinko parlor, fixated on those shiny ball bearings; lined up at a three-story driving range nailing golf balls into the air with close attention to the flow of the movement; skillfully creating the simply amazingly realistic looking mock food that inhabits every restaurant’s window front. We also get to experience Ozu as first hand as we can, given he died in 1963. Wenders conducts lengthy interviews with actor Chishu Ryu and cameraman Yuharu Atsuta discussing the filmmaker’s style for making his films.
Tokyo-Ga is a fascinating way to peek into Tokyo and observe the city and its people. My only major criticism was the lack of subtitles or translations in parts: the film opens and closes with clips from what we can assume are Ozu films subtitled in French while at another point in the film Wenders films a conversation in German with fellow filmmaker Werner Herzog. It’s a minor criticism. Wenders is patient in his travels and doesn’t force any conclusions on the viewer. Tokyo-Ga offers something of interest for fans of Ozu and the Japanese capital city alike.