16 January 2018



This is a visually and emotional beautiful film by 'the poet of family life,' Yasujiro Ozu. As you can guess from the quotation there (some film critic; I forget his name, sorry!), he's well-known for making wonderful films about all things to do with the family. 

Have you also guessed that there aren't any car chases or explosions or gunfights in it? Oh, right, well, that's obviously why some readers have toddled off in search of DIE HARD (and that's fair enough!) and I'm left with the thoughtful readers who, like me, enjoy the obscure old gems of classic world cinema, lol.

BROTHERS AND SISTERS OF THE TODA FAMILY is quite similar to Ozu's 1953 movie TOKYO STORY, in which an elderly couple from rural Japan decide to go on a big trip to Tokyo City for the first time in their lives. They're not going merely to see the sights, although I'm sure that those were marvellous.

No, it's mainly their grown-up children and their grandchildren they're planning to see, but what's sad about this film is that all their kids, and even their grandkids, are selfish, self-obsessed ingrates who don't give a shit about what this lovely old couple have done for them. Booooooooooo!, etc., etc. Load of feckin' wasters, as we'd say here in Ireland.

The only person they meet on their eagerly-anticipated but ultimately disappointing trip to the Big Smoke to show them any kindness is their daughter-in-law, their son's widow. This woman isn't even related to them by birth or blood and yet she gladly takes in the old woman when she needs a place to stay one night (her old man's off with some old pals boozing it up on the sake, don't worry about him!), gives her spending money for the trip (an unexpected treat!) and, most importantly, makes her feel welcome.

This young woman, the daughter-in-law whose husband (the old couple's son) died in World War Two, will have little or nothing with which to reproach herself when the old lady passes away soon after her return to the little village where she lives. Even then, all that the other siblings are concerned with is dividing up the spoils amongst themselves before running back to their own precious lives with indecent haste.

There's a similar lack of filial respect, loyalty and devotion on display in Yasujiro Ozu's earlier film, BROTHERS AND SISTERS OF THE TODA FAMILY. This time, it's the father of the family who passes away, and at the beginning of the film rather than at its climax.

The repercussions of the old man's death (he'd reached the ripe old age of sixty-nine and the whole family had been celebrating this fact with a commemorative photo-shoot in their lovely garden) are what this film is all about.

The Toda family is wealthy and upper-class, as we see from their fabulously big family home and garden. When Pops dies, however, it is revealed that he was up to his tonsils in debt, which is terribly unfortunate for those he now leaves behind. The house and various assets have got to be sold to clear the debts he owes his creditors, which will leave his elderly wife and youngest daughter homeless.

Never mind, says the eldest son Shinichiro, much to the chagrin of his wife Kazuko. Mum and Setsuko (the youngest daughter of the family Toda) can come and stay with us. Mum and Setsuko have to smile graciously and pretend like they've just won the Lottery. It doesn't work out at the son's place, anyway, as the son's wife is an auld dragon and treats the quiet pair like a couple of servants or unwanted guests. What an uppity bitch, lol.

Mrs. Toda and Setsuko try their luck next at the home of the Toda's eldest daughter Chizuko and her husband, but they don't fare any better there. The eldest daughter, Setsuko's older sister and the mistress of the house, ends up telling Old Ma Toda to stay away from the son of the house. Why? Because he's supposed to be studying, that's why, and Mrs. Toda, his Granny, is apparently a bad influence for not reporting him to his parents for playing truant. The old lady was just keeping a promise to her grandson, that's all. It's so unfair.

Chizuko also has the bare-faced cheek to give her younger sister Setsuko a bollocking for wanting to go out to work. Daughters of upper-class families don't go out to work, she berates Setsuko, much to that young lady's disappointment. Working is so lower class...!

Setsuko has an attractive friend called Tokiko who goes out to work. She's glamorous, single and independent and has her own money. That all looks good to Setsuko, who's currently being dragged from pillar to post alongside her old mother, while the selfish older siblings play 'Pass The Parcel' amongst themselves with their old widowed Mum and their youngest sister. What a self-centred lot.

Anyway, Chizuko puts the mockers on Setsuko's plans to get a job, although what it's got to do with her I don't know. She already has a rich husband, a young son and a fabulous big house with servants. Who is she to say that Setsuko can't go out to try and make her own way in the world? She has no right to say that, surely?

Mrs. Toda and Setsuko have had enough of everyones' bullshit, anyway. They decide to up-sticks once more and go and live in an old dilapidated house by the sea, the last of the late Mr. Toda's properties.

It's not exactly in the best of shape but at least there aren't any bossy, snooty snobs of daughters or daughters-in-law there to look down on them, exclude them from stuff, tell 'em what to do or just generally be nasty or narky to them.

What happens next is interesting. The youngest son of the family Shojiro, who'd taken the opportunity of his father's death to bugger off to China to do his own thing for a bit, returns to find his family in frightful disarray. 

Shocked to discover his widowed Mum and little sister living in little more than a glorified shack, he gathers the whole family together on the first anniversary of Dad's death and gives them a good bollocking for treating Mrs. Toda and Setsuko so shabbily.

It's great that Shojiro is finally giving this unpleasant family what-for, but he's been gone from the nest for a year. What's he done for his Mum and sister recently, the absentee rascal? Well, guess what? He's about to make up for previous neglect and time wasted with a big generous gesture. Will he put his money where his mouth is, though? For the sake of Mrs. Toda and Setsuko, let's hope so...

Like TOKYO STORY, BROTHERS AND SISTERS OF THE TODA FAMILY is delicately-shot in black-and-white and looks absolutely gorgeous today, despite its great age. The director devotes loads of time to showing us empty rooms and inanimate objects just sitting quietly in their spaces, things just quietly 'being.'

Lamps, tables and chairs, doorways, hallways, vases of flowers, he frames them all beautifully and the results are stunning. It's a stunning film in general and you should check it out if you get the chance. The director is a quietly unobtrusive master at his craft. 


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

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