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With: Teruyuki Kagawa, Kyoko Koizumi, Yu Koyanagi, Kai Inowaki, Haruka Igawa, Kanji Tsuda, Koji Yakusho
Written by: Max Mannix, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Sachiko Tanaka
Directed by: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language
Language: Japanese, with English subtitles
Running Time: 119
Date: 05/17/2008

Tokyo Sonata (2009)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Family Despair

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The great and prolific Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, best known for horror films like Cure (1997) and Pulse (2001), has been absent from U.S. theaters for some time. But now he returns, apparently refreshed and re-charged with Tokyo Sonata, a family melodrama with a sly, satirical bite and no horror elements.

It begins as family man Ryuhei Sasaki (Teruyuki Kagawa) loses his job (he's unable to answer the question: "what can you offer this company?"). Ashamed of telling his wife Megumi (Kyoko Koizumi), he dutifully leaves the house each morning, looking for another job and hanging out all day. He meets an old pal who has been likewise downsized and has mastered the art of looking employed.

Meanwhile, Kurosawa gives the other family members something to do. Eldest son Takashi (Yu Koyanagi) has decided to enlist in the U.S. military. Younger son Kenji (Kai Inowaki) has been sneaking off and spending his lunch money on secret piano lessons (forbidden by dad). And late in the film, something happens to Megumi that ramps up the film's bizarre humor. (Hint: it involves an appearance by Kurosawa's regular leading man Koji Yakusho.)

Like one of Douglas Sirk's great dramas, this one is mainly about familial disconnect and an inability to truly communicate. Only Megumi and Takashi seem to have a kind of rapport, telling each other the harsh truth; she shares with him (and with no one else) the fact that she has finally got her driver's license. He acknowledges the achievement but dismisses it as an expensive ID card.

Otherwise, Kurosawa cleverly ties together these storylines at certain intervals, such as the father and the young son shuffling home and arriving at the same point together. The dutiful family meals are little performances of the absurd, full of hypocrisy; and the final scene is a kicker. Tokyo Sonata runs a bit long, and it's tough to laugh when the jobless situation looms large in real life, but this is a brilliantly crafted picture.

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