Getting Lost in Wim Wenders’ 1985 Ode to Yasujirô Ozu, ‘Tokyo-Ga’

Although a German native and a staple of the country’s cinema, internationally beloved filmmaker Wim Wenders has always been a great explorer of foreign territory. Whether he’s shooting the sweeping deserts of the American Southwest with a romantic eye and pastiche fascination or the everyday intricacies and idiosyncratic wonders of modern Japanese culture, Wenders possesses a tremendous ability to impress his own poetic and beautifully melancholy voice into just about everywhere he travels.

And in 1983, the director traveled to Japan with the hopes of shooting a documentary feature called Tokyo-ga—a diary on film of his exploration further into the life and work of iconic Japanese filmmaker Yasujirô Ozu. He conducted interviews with Yuharu Atsuta (Ozu’s cinematographer) and visited his shooting locations, as well as showing us his exposition on the culture of contemporary Tokyo in comparison to the Japanese culture so heavily imbued in Ozu’s work. The resulting film is an homage to him and a journey to capture the essence of what it is Wenders has forever been so fascinated by in his work.

In speaking to the films, Wenders once said that for all the Japanese linage present in Ozu’s work, he is able to “recognize all families, in all the countries of the world, as well as my parents, my brother and myself.  For me, never before and never again since has the cinema been so close to its essence and its purpose: to present an image of man in our century, a usable, true and valid image, in which he not only recognizes himself but from which, above all, he may learn about himself.”

As Wenders takes us along on his travels, we go everywhere from Pachinko halls and wax food factories to observing rockabilly culture in Yoyogi park. It’s been said that:

More than anything, Wenders’ film plays out like a travelogue of a very personal artistic pilgrimage, in this case, to Ozu’s Tokyo. A potentially excellent double-bill counterpart to Chris Marker’s (who makes a brief appearance in the film) contemporaneous Japan-centric experimental fiction/documentary hybrid, Sans Soleil (1983), Tokyo-Ga reveals the perspective of a fascinated apprentice,

And although the film doesn’t seem to be streaming in one piece anywhere on the internet, you can certainly enjoy the wonder of Tokyo-Ga scene by scene. Set aside some quality time as you hibernate from the snow to enjoy a bit of Wenders. And if you’re really looking for an escape after, head to Hulu + to enjoy a wealth of Wenders—from Alice in the Cities to Wings of Desire.

Pachinko & Mu

Getting the Shot With Yuharu Atsuta

Wim Wenders and Chishu Ryu

Rockabilly Scene

“Only what’s there can exist, what’s real.”

Werner Herzog on his quest for ‘pure’ images.


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