Tokyo yakyoku

Saturday, June 21, 1997

Author: Gerow, Aaron
Japanase Title: Tokyo yakyoku
Director: Ichikawa Jun
Release Date: June 21, 1997


  • Production Company: Eisei Gekijo Co., Ltd., Kindai Eiga Kyokai
  • Release: 21 June 1997
  • Length: 87 min.
  • Format: 35 mm; 1:1.85
  • Color: Color


  • Director: Ichikawa Jun
  • Executive Producers: Nabeshima Toshio, Maruyama Mitsuru
  • Producer: Satonaka Tetsuo
  • Screenplay: Sato Shinsuke
  • Original Story: Ichikawa Jun
  • Photography: Kobayashi Tatsuhiko
  • Music: Shimizu Itto, Reichi


  • Hamanaka Koichi: Nagatsuka Kyozo
  • Hamanaka Hisako: Baisho Mitsuko
  • Ozawa Tami: Momoi Kaori
  • Asakura Teiji: Kamigawa Takaya
  • Hamanaka’s father: Hayashi Koba

Orchestral Score of Tokyo Life

The city symphony was one of the hallmarks of classical film, as directors such as Walter Ruttmann, Dziga Vertov and Rene Clair tried to weild all the tools the new medium had to offer to compose broad-sweeping cinematic collages of life in the modern city.

But whereas their films treated the individual city dweller as parts that illustrate the whole, Ichikawa Jun’s own Tokyo symphony, Tokyo yakyoku (literally “Tokyo Nocturne”), lets the streets, rivers and trains of the metropolis speak for the individual human heart.

This is because the characters on their own say little about themselves. The film’s plot, as with many Ichikawa films, begins already in progress and proceeds in an episodic fashion that purposely excises much of the narrative detail.

Hamanaka Koichi (Nagatsuka Kyozo) returns to his wife Hisako (Baisho Mitsuko) and family in a sadder, run-down section of eastern Tokyo after having run away from home years before. He gives no explanation of his absence and his family asks no questions. It is only through the questions that a young writer named Asakura (Kamikawa Takaya), who is secretly in love with Hisako, poses of local shop owners, that we learn that Hamanaka’s disappearance may be related to the fact that the woman everyone thought he would marry, Tami (Mamoi Kaori) - who runs the cafe across the street from the Hamanaka electric store - had ended up tying the knot with another man who died soon thereafter.

Ichikawa, however, does not offer up this information in one fell swoop; he spreads it throughout the film, often combining these tales told in voice-over with images of Hamanaka, Tami and Hisako continuing their everyday lives. Their story of love and acceptance is in effect told by the chorus of voices of the urban community that surrounds them.

But the central trio remains resolutely silent, seldom talking to each other and saying very little when they do. Their communication is more cinematic, revealed in the concerto of close-ups and glances that Ichikawa conducts on film.

Rarely showing any location with an initial full shot, instead he builds space and character relations through the precise editing of looks between people. The fitful renewal of Hamanaka and Tami’s affair is thus played out through their attempts to catch or avoid the other’s eyes over a distance, often through the window panes of their facing shops.

And when they finally do temporarily overcome the gap between them - when Tami finally asks Hamanaka to have a bite to eat with her - Ichikawa does not show us his answer, but rather views of the town, streets, and canals that surround the two. Here, more than anywhere else, it is the city that gives his answer, that speaks for the characters and articulates what they remain silent about.

Ichikawa delicately punctuates his film with refrains of city images, particularly the means of transportation like canals, roads, and trains that tie together this community of individuals. The story is given a larger significance but not without losing its particular focus. Ichikawa points his camera at other generations and at other affairs of love and rejection both to emphasize the greater life cycle and to underline what the heroes themselves are feeling.

But it is perhaps the overwhelming presence of the community that proves a burden to 1970s veterans like Hamanaka and Tami. Ichikawa shows the two at one point watching Tahara Soichiro and Shimizu Haruo’s Arakajime ushinawareta koibitotachi yo (1971) - Momoi’s first major film role - a film that posed silence as the only form of rebellion or resistance against an oppressive society. But surrounded by talkative neighbors and an inquisitive novelist, the trio’s silence seems destined to defeat. People will talk, so Tami must in the end leave this city environment for the countryside.

Trapped in this flow of city spaces, all that remains for the trio is the quiet melancholy and alienation that are a bit too typical of Ichikawa’s world. One could just as much say that they are caught in the mathematically precise rythms and melodies of Tokyo yakyoku’s perfectly composed town. It may be an impressive new version of the city symphony, but one that at times too predictably falls into the patterns of Ichikawa’s work.

Reviewed by Aaron Gerow

Originally appeared in The Daily Yomiuri, 26 June 1997, p. 9.

Copyright 1997: The Daily Yomiuri and Aaron Gerow