by Brandon Colvin
It’s easy to overlook a DVD when it doesn’t even have its own stand-alone release. German auteur Wim Wenders’ remarkable 1985 documentary Tokyo-Ga – a tribute to minimalist Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu can only be viewed via Criterion’s two-disc special edition of Ozu’s Late Spring (1949) and The Wim Wender’s Collection, Vol. 2 (if you’re willing to track it down for a reasonable price). Reflective of Ozu’s meditative stylistic techniques, Wenders’ film is relaxed, playful, and subtly emotional – a fitting examination of Ozu’s home-base, as well as his works’ significance to and impact on international cinematic culture.
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, a perspective that includes memorable scenes featuring Wenders’ visit to Ozu’s gravesite, an intriguing encounter with Werner Herzog, and an exploration of the Daiei Studio lots where Ozu crafted his masterpieces, including Tokyo Story (1953), Good Morning (1959), and Floating Weeds (1959). Certainly the most moving and valuable aspects of Wenders’ documentary are the lengthy interviews with longtime Ozu cinematographer and collaborator, Yuuharu Atsuta, and Ozu’s favorite actor, Chishu Ryu, who appeared in over 35 of the director’s 54 films, both of which are essential for any fan of Ozu’s work or any viewer interested in the collaborative relationship between a truly visionary director and his associates. Perhaps the best documentary about cinema I have ever had the pleasure of watching, Wenders’ film deserves at least a spot at the top of your Netflix queue.