BrandonHabes’s review published on Letterboxd:
No. Freaking. Way.
Ozu made a miserable neorealist film decades before miserable neorealism was even a thing in Italy, and my heart just shattered into a trillion pieces. Bazin, eat your heart out! It's neorealist to the bone —the unemployment, the homelessness, the cruel wasteland, the heart-wrenching pathos, the search for food, for shelter, for happiness, and so on. Every frame bleeds with an honest ache. Every character is inveighed against by economic forces outside their control. It's PICKPOCKET (1959) by way of BICYCLE THIEVES (1948) set in what looks like post-apocalyptic Tokyo.
A punishing industrial flatland knotted together by grimy satanic mills, smoke-belching factories, and spidery telephone poles, feels like the kind of oppressive environment Antonioni would lift 30 years later for RED DESERT (1964). It's depression cinema about depression-era poverty, a tale that follows a father and his two sons into the abyss of hopelessness as they look for work, food, and a place to call home.
In a scene that utterly destroyed me, we see the trio play make-believe with nonexistent food, filling their bellies with nothing as they dream about the luxury of food they can't afford. In another scene that wrecked me, the trio must make a decision between food or shelter, an awful decision that no one on this earth should ever have to make. Then there's the final scene that completely annihilated me, when the father makes an impossible choice to extend empathy towards others on the same destitute trail, but in doing so forfeits all his hopes and desires while leaving his children with eternal scars. Of course I was gonna love this.
This is soulful, deeply moving cinema. I love how simple and sentimentally barren the execution is. And for Ozu's final surviving silent film, I have to say I'm really sad to leave this chapter of his career. He made less always feel more with nothing but the moving image, excellent performances, and stories that cut deep even though nothing was heard. This is a haunting, haunting film to end his silent pictures on, and literally none of you I follow has seen it (or at least logged it). And so, for all you bleak and bummer cinephiles out there, get this miserable title on your list ASAP.