Directed by David Bickerstaff, based on a major exhibition at the Ashmolean in Oxford, Tokyo Stories spans 400 years of incredibly dynamic art – ranging from the delicate woodblock prints of Hokusai and Hiroshige, to Pop Art posters, contemporary photography, Manga, film, and brand-new artworks that were created on the streets.
It’s certainly no secret that Tokyo has a vast, varied and monumental cultural history but it’s not often that you see one film trying to tap into all those different forms in ninety minutes. That’s what Tokyo Stories attempts to give audiences, an overview of just how many different types of artistic expression have been explored in the city over the years. A challenge that it raises to successfully, it contains a multitude of artforms from historical to modern day and it’s interesting to see how the interpretation and ingenuity of art has evolved over the years.
However, the main problem holding it back from truly capturing that endless stream of talent is the energy it brings to the table. It’s too simple and refined, it’s missing out on capitalising on the vibrant and effervescent energy that Tokyo has to give. There’s so much colour and culture that are begging to speed things up a bit and have more confidence or flexibility. Yet, it feels like it’s simply stuck in one singular box and it doesn’t have the flow to match its subjects. Especially when it’s jumping around so much, on top of missing that momentum, it also doesn’t have a strong hand at the wheel. There’s no solid connection or timeline to it to help guide viewers through the experience and piece all its moving parts together.
There’s some fantastic footage of Tokyo and it’s wonderful to see different Japanese artists giving their opinion but it also would have been great to see more of them. There was space to add in additional Japanese voices, to give that insider perspective, rather than feeling like it’s coming from the outside. It also tends to lean on the cityscape and the billboards, going back repeatedly to them throughout which felt like time better used on threading the story together.
Tokyo Stories is a slow sojourn through the rich artistic past and present that the city has to offer. However, it can feel like it’s wandering at too slow of a pace, even though it’s constantly moving from one subject to another, it hits the same note throughout. The energy is overly consistent, even from start to finish which misses out on doing justice to the vivacity of Tokyo. It’s an interesting topic and it has plenty of information to offer but the way it’s packaged doesn’t feel like an optimal choice.