Tokyo Sonata (2009) dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Starring: Teruyuki Kagawa, Kyôko Koizumi, Yû Koyanagi, Inowaki Kai, Haruka Igawa
By Alan Bacchus
Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Cure, Pulse) smartly leaves the languishing J-Horror genre behind him and branches out creatively with this acclaimed and award-winning art-house, humanist drama. With its absurd, but staid, tone, Tokyo Sonata succeeds in enlightening us, with that familiar Asian peculiarity, to the effects of the global financial crisis from the point of view of a middle class Japanese family.
When Ryuhei (a husband and father of two boys) loses his job, he finds himself helpless, like a turtle on his back, unable to comprehend such upheaval. Embarrassed and hurt, he keeps this a secret from his wife Megumi and continues his daily routine of leaving home in the morning and returning before dinner. His days though are spent walking long soup kitchen lines with other fellow corporate castaways and job-hunting at various temp agencies. Ryuhei's frustrations extend to his domestic life when his inability to control the actions of his two boys sends him over the edge. His elder child decides to enter the military so he can fight for the U.S. Army in Iraq and his young son develops an interest in music, an endeavour of which he stubbornly and vehemently disapproves.
Though I've never been to Japan, my impression of its working culture is that it's an unforgiving powder keg of stress. So, for Kurosawa, Ryuhei's breakdown and inability to ask for help sharply mirror his society's over-protectiveness of its pride and fallibility in the context of their country's financial crisis.
Kurosawa's observational photography looks fantastic, bringing to mind the satirical work of Roy Andersson (Songs from the Second Floor, You, the Living). Tokyo Sonata moves at a very slow pace and might test the patience of those not inclined to relax or sit still, but as it moves towards its third act, Kurosawa brings his characters to the edge, engineering a powerfully emotional climax and an optimistic glimmer of hope at the very end. Thank god for that.