CinemaDope: Identity Crisis

As I write this column, Hurricane Sandy is just beginning to beat down upon our shores. Friends in Northampton and Brooklyn alike have trees down in their yards; relatives in Rhode Island are dealing with ocean flooding and power outages; and everywhere, things are closing early. The movies, it turns out, are no exception.

But this week, you get a second chance. If you were looking forward to catching Yasujiro Ozu’s film Tokyo Story at the end of October—when it was originally slated for a one-night engagement as part of the Reinventing Tokyo Film Series—Sandy kept the screening room dark. Luckily, Amherst Cinema thought enough of the film (and its film-loving patrons) to reschedule it for this week; it will screen on Wednesday, Nov. 14 at 7 p.m., and all original tickets will be honored.

Released in 1953, Tokyo Story is Ozu’s masterpiece and a regular contender in those Top 100 Films lists that seem to be released so often now. It’s also proof that a film can find dramatic punch in the smallest stories just as easily as the grandest epics. Here the action revolves around an extended family in post-war Tokyo: aging parents Tomi and Sukichi, their grown children Koichi and Shige, and widowed daughter-in-law Noriko. When the older couple visit the city to see their children, they find that the bustling life of professional Tokyo doesn’t leave much room for them; on their arrival, their children announce that they have booked their parents into a spa so they won’t be underfoot at home.

Unhappy and unsettled, Tomi falls ill and decides to return home, sparking a moment of soul-searching in her children, who make the long journey to visit their ailing mother. In its exploration of family dynamics and generational conflict, Tokyo Story is global—we’ve all, at some point, disappointed our parents, and felt the sting that goes along with it. But Ozu’s film is also particularly Japanese in its study of the nation’s changing postwar priorities. To help make sense of it all, the film—which is screening in conjunction with The Mead Art Museum’s Reinventing Tokyo exhibit—will be introduced by Professor Timothy Van Compernolle, Associate Professor of Asian Languages and Civilizations at Amherst College.


Also this week: At press time, The Big Picture was still booked at Amherst Cinema, providing a thrilling bit of Gallic-noir identity crisis. Romain Duris (The Beat That My Heart Skipped) stars as Paul Exben, a Parisian lawyer who accidentally kills a struggling photojournalist after discovering the man had been sleeping with his wife, Sarah. No killer, Paul is overcome with guilt and the fear of what his act will mean for his family; to save them as much as himself, he flees, assuming the identity of the man he killed.

Safely abroad but devastated and alone, Paul—now Grégoire—turns to the avocation that first drew him and his wife together: photography. He begins shooting again, rekindling a creative fire that he had nearly let die years ago—a lapse that led, indirectly, to the murder. But if Sarah had been right about Paul’s talent all along, it’s too late now for success, and as a local gallery sniffs around his darkroom, the promise of artistic triumph will almost certainly mean the end of his secret life.

Fans of the European style of the suspense/thriller genre will notice that The Big Picture, like many of its brethren, requires its audience to not ask too many questions about the finer points of the game (identity theft, faking a death, etc.). In return, however, you get a stylish tale that, unlike many of its American counterparts, is actually built on a frame of human emotions. To which I say: vive la différence.•

Jack Brown can be reached at

Author: Jack Brown

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