'Tokyo Sonata': A Family's Melancholy Melody A downsized worker can't bring himself to tell his wife that he's lost his job — and goes on with his workaday routine as though he had never been fired. But in this family, the patriarch isn't the only one ill at ease. (Recommended)
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'Tokyo Sonata': A Family's Melancholy Melody

Patriarch Power: Ryuhei Sasaki (Teruyuki Kagawa) struggles to maintain control of his family even as his life is unraveling. Regent Releasing hide caption

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Patriarch Power: Ryuhei Sasaki (Teruyuki Kagawa) struggles to maintain control of his family even as his life is unraveling.

Regent Releasing

Tokyo Sonata

  • Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
  • Genre: Drama
  • Running Time: 119 minutes

Not Rated

(Recommended)

Watch Clips

'Piano Lessons'

'Driver's License'

'Jail'

Megumi Sasaki (Kyoko Koizumi) is torn between a desire to honor her husband and protect her sons. Regent Releasing hide caption

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Regent Releasing

Megumi Sasaki (Kyoko Koizumi) is torn between a desire to honor her husband and protect her sons.

Regent Releasing

What happens when an exceptionally orderly society breaks down? Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa has proposed various answers to that question, mostly in movies that get filed under "horror."

There's more horror in his new Tokyo Sonata, but it's an everyday sort: The slashing is of payrolls, not arteries.

This deft, bracingly unpredictable movie opens in a tidy Tokyo apartment, which housewife Megumi (Kyoko Koizumi) scurries to protect from a cloudburst.

Then the scene changes to an office, where a Japanese-fluent Chinese woman portends a new era of outsourcing. That era begins immediately, as mid-level executive Ryuhei (Teruyuki Kagawa) is laid off.

Megumi and Ryuhei are married, and the story toggles between them, with occasional forays into the lives of their sons, teenager Takashi (Yu Koyanagi) and 6th-grader Kenji (Inowaki Kai).

A fireplug of a man, Ryuhei is the absolute power in the house. But his authority comes from his breadwinner role, so the status quo crumbles as Megumi and the boys gradually realize that dad has lost his job.

That knowledge dawns so slowly because Ryuhei gets up every morning, puts on a suit and leaves home. Some days he goes to an employment agency or to a humiliating job interview. More often, he just sits in the scruffy park where homeless men line up for a free rice-porridge lunch. Increasingly, unemployed salarymen join the line.

Although Tokyo Sonata remains focused on one family, it illustrates a larger phenomenon. Ryuhei meets other men in his situation, including a former schoolmate who's set his cell phone to ring five times an hour so he can pretend to be taking important business calls. When he finally gets a cleaning-crew job, Ryuhei is not the only worker who changes from his orange jumpsuit to a business suit before heading home.

Tired of handing out fliers for a modest living, Takashi decides to join the U.S. Army and fight in the Middle East. (This couldn't actually happen, but it's a provocative notion in Japan, where the American military presence is widely resented.)

Kenji, for his part, rebels by signing up for the piano lessons his father has forbidden him to take. He turns out to be gifted, and his playing offers the family the possibility of reconciliation.

First, though, the movie goes a little wild, as Megumi is kidnapped by a burglar (played by Japanese-everyman star Koji Yakusho, best known in the West for roles in Shall We Dance? and Memoirs of a Geisha).

Anarchy briefly grips Megumi's and Ryuhei's lives, yet even this episode is thematically linked: The criminal admits to being another guy who couldn't make it in Japan's unraveling economy.

At times, Tokyo Sonata feels like a Bergman film: blond-wood interiors, classical-music soundtrack, family resentments ticking down to explosion.

But even when addressing social issues, Kurosawa retains his B-movie instincts. He switches scenes and tones with abandon, and is unafraid to inject elements of the fantastic into a commonplace scenario.

As a result, the movie seems a little rough in places. Yet that stylistic gawkiness suits the story, a tale of unexpected developments and unforeseeable consequences. Tokyo Sonata is not Kiyoshi Kurosawa's most cataclysmic parable, but its depiction of Japan's middle class is among the director's most foreboding visions. (Recommended).