That Setsuko smile

A hard-edged view of life, cushioned by grace and compassion

Isn’t life disappointing?’

‘Yes, it is.’

Merely set down on paper, this exchange can be interpreted in different ways. It could be a shallow, posturing, schoolboy-level show of ‘cynicism’. It might be a sincere but reductive expression of feeling. Or it could be hard-earned wisdom about the incurable ugliness of the world, gained from looking long and deep into the abyss.

How do you respond, though, when this exchange plays out on screen in a gentle film, made by the gentlest of filmmakers — where the cutting line ‘Yes it is’ is accompanied by one of the kindest, most luminous smiles you’ll see? One that carries within it an ocean of knowingness, but also manages somehow to not be smug or patronising.

Such is the effect of this unforgettable moment near the end of Yasujir? Ozu’s 1952 classic Tokyo Story, where a young woman named Kyoko asks her sister-in-law Noriko the question — and the latter, played by the great Setsuko Hara, replies in a tone that suggests she is exchanging pleasantries with a neighbour (and with an enigmatic smile that could make Mona Lisa envious). Over the course of the film, we have seen Noriko’s aging parents-in-law being neglected by their too-busy children. The widowed Noriko is the most sympathetic member of the younger generation. But here she is now, admitting that she too might one day “become like that, in spite of myself.”....Read more


Source web page: The hindu

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