Japanese Society and Culture


Abigail Deveney


Yasujirō Ozu, Film, Cinema, Japan, Japanese, Tokyo Monogatari, Tokyo Story, Their First Trip to Tokyo, Shomingeki Genre, Postwar, London Film Festival, BFI, Sutherland Prize, Shochiku, Shiro Kido, Kashiko Kawakita, Nagamasa Kawakita, Donald Richie, Tadao Sato, Dilys Powell, Leslie Hardcastle, Earl Miner, John Gillett, Derek Prouse, Soft Power

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Tokyo Story (1953) came to fame in 1958, when Yasujiro Ozu’s postwar film about a fragmenting family won the Sutherland prize at the London Film Festival – or so cinematic scholarship suggests. There is, however, a much more complex tale to be told. In fact, director Ozu’s shomingeki-genre film was being discussed and promoted internationally long before what is considered that watershed moment.

This dissertation explores why the western world took note. It argues that Tokyo Story’s nuanced and humanist narrative was a unique form of soft power, attracting and persuading decades before that concept was formally articulated. Tokyo Story’s uptake reflected the power of a film, initially defined within national parameters, then redeployed transnationally, to modify impressions of Japan after the second world war.

Drawing on archives, interviews, and scholarly writings, the author maps out original theories about why Tokyo Story won the Sutherland prize. Creating a space in which Ozu’s mastery intersects with the priorities of government, industry and individuals, the author investigates the policies, plans and people behind the film’s success. Tokyo Story’s enduring narrative proved better than any emissary or delegation in evolving views of a once-warring nation. It remains cinematic artistry at its influential finest.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.