Tokyo Sonata: review

many once-strong economies around the world are trying to recover from recession.   no one is safe from massive layoffs, leaving many to scavenge for lower jobs or become homeless.  ‘tokyo sonata’ shows us a family that is seemingly normal; but under the quiet facade of peace lies a torrent of suspicions, unspoken truths and desperation, which threatens to surface when the father of the family is fired from his company.

kurasawa kiyoshi is a director best known for his contributions to the horror genre, responsible for titles like ‘cure’, ‘retribution’ and ‘pulse’.  his latest film ‘tokyo sonata’ is an interesting departure from the thriller genre, but doesn’t give the impression that he is trying to re-invent himself as a director.  there is so sign of hesitation or inexperience;  much of his style is intact.  i could even argue that ‘tokyo sonata’ utilizes this style better than his other films.

the film begins with ryuhei, the father, who is let go by his company in favor of taking in cheaper and harder working staff from china.  unable to break the news to his family, he pretends nothing is wrong, leaving his house in the morning and coming home late to keep up the facade.  he spends his days looking for work, coping with disillusionment and suffering one unfortunate circumstance after another.  the film also follows the other members of the family in parallel to ryuhei, and how their individual hardships start to chip away at their family life.  though the narrative is full of intricate lies and secrets, there is an air of purity and naivete that shows through the family; and it’s impossible to point out who is at fault.

the setup and execution is wonderful.  kiyoshi’s style lends itself handsomely to this well-crafted story;  there is a clever blend of traditional japanese cinematography and contemporary grit that makes for a compelling experience.  the drama is subtle and quiet; powerful, but not overbearing with dread.  while it might not seem like it, the experience ‘tokyo sonata’ provides is an uplifting one.  the inevitable social commentary that follows the premise is naturally woven into the film, not feeling ham-fisted or forced.

some of the events that unfold in the subplots involving the family members near the end felt sloppily put together, but kiyoshi manages to keep it together to deliver a powerful ending.  ‘tokyo sonata’ is one of the few contemporary films coming from japan that i feel needs to be seen and appreciated.  i hope kiyoshi continues to impress and set trends for future films to come.

About Dae Lee

-Dae, aka Mizu -Writer, broadcaster, and podcaster on New School Kaidan