In Japanese with English Subtitles
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Kagawa, Kyôko Koizumi, Yû Koyanagi, Inowaki Kai,
Haruka Igawa, Kanji Tsuda, Kazuya Kojima, Kôji Yakusho
RunTime: 2 hrs
Released By: Cathay-Keris Films
Official Website: http://tokyosonata.com/index.html
Opening Day: 17 September 2009
A portrait of a seemingly ordinary Japanese family. The father
who abruptly loses his job conceals the truth from his family;
the eldest son in college hardly returns home; the youngest
son furtively take piano lessons without telling his parents;
and the mother, who knows deep down that her role is to keep
the family together, cannot find the will to do so. From the
exterior, all is normal and the same. But somehow, a single,
unforeseeable chasm has appeared within the family, only to
spread ever so quietly and quickly to disintegrate them.
For a large part of this two hour film, things play out like a drama you are somewhat familiar with. You don’t exactly remember where you’ve seen something like that before. Was it a television programme you watched some time back? Was it a play you attended eons ago? Or was it an episode of someone’s actual life story? You become engaged; you become affected; you want the characters to have a happy ending. While those are usual emotions viewers would feel while watching a well crafted drama, this award winning Japanese film takes it one step further with its last scene.
As you listen to the peaceful "Claire de Lune" composed by Claude Debussy, there is a tranquility that overwhelms you. Played by a young boy on a baby grand piano, this is one of the most powerful conclusions we’ve seen this year. As the film credits roll, you are left in a serene state while listening to the sounds of shuffling feet.
The young pianist is part of a dysfunctional family in this Kiyoshi Kurosawa directed film. It all begins when his father loses his job at a prominent company. From there, the family unit slowly disintegrates. The elder son enlists in the army to fight for the Americans. The younger son goes behind his patriarchic father to take piano lessons. With the mess going on in the family, the head of the family continues dressing up every morning to go to work, simply because he cannot bring himself to break the news to his dedicated wife.
While we will leave it up to readers to find out how a plot setup like this leads itself to the eventual conclusion described in this review’s opening, we will tell you that this isn’t a straightforward movie as you’d expect it to be. And you would have seen this coming if you know of director Kurosawa’s filmography which includes the bizarre and unsettling horror films Retribution (2006) and Pulse (2001). The film starts off agreeably, carried along nicely by assuring pacing and cinematography. Given the catastrophe that has happened, the family members still go about living their lives. There is a very strong social commentary here (especially relevant in this economy downturn period), and the filmmakers balance it well with the occasional situational comedy portions inserted into the film. Probably that is what the Cannes jury most enjoyed about this film, hence awarding it the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at last year’s festival.
Then things take a strange turn when a thief is introduced into the picture. Played by one of the director’s favourite actors Koji Yakusho (Babel, Shall We Dance?), this character is an odd but interesting booster to the film. A locksmith who failed in life, this thief changes the wife’s life in ways she’d never imagine. This will also take viewers on a peculiar and unusual journey where characters will come to revelations. Established actors Teruyuki Kagawa (Tokyo!, 20th Century Boys) and Kyoko Koizumi (Tokyo Tower, Gu Gu the Cat) effortlessly bring the characters of the father and the mother to life, making viewers feel for how tense and torn they feel having to run a family.
When you see the parents dressed up nicely to attend their younger son’s audition after the series of events they went through for the past two hours, you would begin to ponder what it takes to live life with all its ups and downs.
(A finely crafted film that you will appreciate)
Review by John Li