Day 249: Late Spring 1949 + ‘Why is Tokyo Story (1953) Regarded as the Greatest Film of All-Time’

Late Spring  1949

A rich and beautiful film full of sadness and burden as a child is forced to married against her wishes.


‘Why is Tokyo Story (1953) Regarded as the Greatest Film of All-Time’

I asked myself this question the first time I watched Tokyo Story, about three or four weeks before I started this project in July 2017. As I watched the film I was constantly asking it to prove itself to me and reveal why it is so highly regarded. As the film unfolded, after more than a third of the film had elapsed, bit by bit, it got under my skin and into my heart and I started to appreciate all the special qualities that so many other people have appreciated about it.

This time I had a better context to experience it, however, having watch two or three Mizoguchi films in the last eight months and eight Kurosawa films as well as forty or fifty French, German and Italian films and watched two other films by Yasujiro Ozu in consecutive nights, Late Autumn (1960) and Late Spring (1949). This time I knew what was coming up at any given moment and I got to see the films with a different set of eyes, and a differently-oriented brain than the first time.

It is far less clear why this is the greatest, best, most excellent, most important, most ground-breaking film ever made in this, my second, viewing. Now, I see it without the expectation that I had with so many of the films I’ve watched in the last eight months and five days.

A New Way of Understanding Tokyo Story‘s Reputation

The DVD cover of the film (which I borrowed from Lane Cove library tonight so I could watch it in the context of these three days living with Ozu) virtually give this film a subtitle, under the Kangi title: THE GREATEST FILM OF ALL TIME. Under that it says Sight & Sound Magazine Directors’ Poll 2012.

S&S and the BFI want to use their polling results to give the public a list of the greatest films ever made and they use their polling results to make emphatic statements which are then reported in the media by journalists and critics and reviews and by those lucky people who can write opinion pieces.

My wife watched Tokyo Story with me tonight. Afterwards she asked me, “So, why do you think it is regarded as the greatest film ever made?”

I thought about my answer for a long time. Probably more than a minute. I responded, “No one is actually saying this is the greatest film ever, except people who use the results of a poll to make that case. In fact, no one being surveyed is saying it is the greatest film ever because the poll didn’t ask that question of any of the twelve hundred people surveyed and the question it did ask wasn’t a question which was so specific as to ask for a black and white response. Instead, the question asked by S&S was deliberately non-specific. They asked twelve hundred people to supply their Top Ten lists. The criteria could be Ten Favourite Films Ever, or Ten Most Important Films Ever or Ten Most Influential Films Ever or Ten Most Worthy Films Ever or Ten Greatest Films Ever or Ten Biggest Films Ever.

The majority of those polled struggled to only find ten films to fit on that list, let alone actually putting the films they voted for, in an order from one to ten.

In the Directors’ Poll of more than 350 recognized film directors it appeared on more Top Ten film lists than any other film. In the Critics poll, Vertigo appeared on more Top Ten film lists than any other. In both polls Citizen Kane was #2. Tokyo Story in the Critics Poll was #3 and Vertigo was #1. Vertigo in that poll of Directors was tied in 7th position with The Godfather (1972). In fact, in the Directors’ Poll Tokyo Story only had six more directors polled place Tokyo Story in their Top Ten. Then 2001 and Citizen Kane were tied and Fellini’s received two less votes. Vertigo and The Godfather at #7 received ten less votes.

It’s not such a stupid thing to ask however as it gives an indication from more than a thousand knowledgeable people what they regard to be the Best Ten Films Ever from which the BFI and S&S extrapolates to create a list of 100 films. In fact they have the list of all the films that rank from 100 onwards including all the films which received just one vote, like Hellzapoppin’ (which a friend and I went out and bought the next day).The important thing about this poll was that voters could explain their choices. For the person who voted for Hellzapoppin’, if he or she had choose just ten films to take with you, marooned on an island for the rest of your life, this voter would take Hellzpoppin’ (1941) and nine other films.

Tokyo Story‘s reputation since the 2012 S&S Poll lies in the fact that it appeared on more Top Ten Lists than any other film.

If you combine the votes for Critics and Directors the list actually reads:

  1. Vertigo (ahead by 23 votes)
  2. Citizen Kane (ahead by 44 votes)
  3. Tokyo Story (ahead by 23 votes)
  4. 2001 (ahead by 15 votes)
  5. La Regle du jeu (ahead by 7 votes)
  6. Sunrise (ahead by 6 votes)
  7. (ahead by 15 votes)
  8. The Searchers (ahead by 3 votes)
  9. Apocalypse Now (ahead by 2 votes)
  10. Breathless (A bout de souffle – ahead by 5 votes)


By contrast the Critics list looks like this:

  1. Vertigo (ahead by 23 votes)
  2. Citizen Kane (ahead by 44 votes)
  3. Tokyo Story (ahead by 23 votes)
  4. La Regle du jeu (ahead by 7 votes)
  5. Sunrise (ahead by 6 votes)
  6. 2001 (ahead by 15 votes)
  7. The Searchers (ahead by 3 votes)
  8. Man with a Movie Camera (1929)
  9. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
  10. (1963 ahead by 15 votes)


Contrasting again, the Directors list:

  1. Tokyo Story (ahead by 6 votes)
  2. 2001 (tied but ahead by 2 votes)
  3. Citizen Kane (tied but ahead by 2 votes)
  4. (1963 ahead by 6 votes)
  5. Taxi Driver (ahead by 1 vote)
  6. Apocalypse Now (ahead by 2 votes)
  7. Vertigo (tied but ahead by 1 vote)
  8. The Godfather (1972)(tied but ahead by 1 vote)
  9. The Mirror (ahead by 1 vote)
  10. Bicycle Thieves (1948)


Only four films are common to all three lists in 2012:

  1. Citizen Kane
  2. Tokyo Story
  3. 2001

No Vertigo, No Regle du jeu or Apocalypse Now, Sunrise or The Searchers, The Godfather or Breathless or The Bicycle Thieves.

The other factor that needs to be counted for is that many of the twelve hundred and four voters knew they had to choose one or two films from a single director’s complete works and give no representation to some directors.

Ozu’s admirers were split between two films in particular, Late April and Tokyo Story.

Hitchcock’s admirers were split between Vertigo, Psycho, Rear Window and North by Northwest

Bergman’s admirers were split between Persona, Hour of the Wolf, Wild Strawberries, The Seventh Seal and Fanny and Alexander

Bresson’s admirers were split between Au hasard balthazar, Mouchette, Pickpocket and A Man Escaped

Fellini’s admirers were split between 8½, La Dolce Vita, Amarcord and La Strada

Kubrick’s admirers were split between 2001, Barry Lyndon, Dr Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange and The Shining

Wilder’s admirers were split between Sunset Blvd, The Apartment and Some Like it Hot

Kurosawa’s admirers were split between Seven Samurai and Rashomon

Godard’s admirers were split between Breatheless and six other films he made

Antonioni’s admirers were split between L’avventura, L’eclisse and Blow-Up

Dreyer’s admirers were split between The Passion of Joan of Arc and Ordet and Gertrud

Bunuel’s admirers were split between La chien andalou, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoise and Belle d’jour,

Renoir’s admirers were split between Le regle du jeu and La grande illusion,

Coppola’s admirers were split between the two Godfather films and Apocalypse Now

Scorsese’s admirers were split between Taxi Driver and Raging Bull and Goodfellas

Tarvosvksy’s admirers were split between Stalker, The Mirror and Andrei Rublev

John Ford’s admirers were consistent in their voting for The Searchers although some votes were recorded for My Darling Clementine

Hawks’s admirers were split between His Girl Friday and Rio Bravo

Chaplin’s admirers were split between City Lights, The Gold Rush and Modern Times

Keaton’s admirers were split between The General and Sherlock Jr.

Leone’s admirers were split between Once Upon a Time in the West and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Murnau’s admirers were split between Sunrise and Nosferatu

Fassbinder’s admirers were split between Berlin Alexanderplatz and Ali: Fear Eats the Soul

Welles’s admirers were split between Citizen Kane, Touch of Evil, The Magnificent Ambersons and The Lady from Shanghai as well as a few others.

Cassavetes split his admirers between six films, including Husbands, Opening Night, Killing of a Chinese Bookie and A Woman Under the Influence

And then there are the one-offs: twenty or thirty directors who had the distinction of achieving one film that enough people voted for that it made it into the Top Ten or the Top Twenty or the Top Hundred. These one-offs are interesting because it’s not based on ‘which film will I pick from Bertolucci’s career?’ or ‘Costa-Gavras’s career?’ or Truffaut, Tati, Lynch, Lean, Ray, Forman, Herzog, Laughton, etc.

And then there are the other one-offs by excellent directors with unexpected films populating the list like Badlands and Blade Runner and Hidden and The Wild Bunch and Sans Soleil and Chinatown and I am Cuba and Don’t Look Now.

There’s another fifty films or directors I haven’t mentioned like Alain Resnais, Mizoguchi, Vertov and Vigo. I’m only riffing off the top of my head right now. It’s not an exhaustive list.