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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tôkyô Sonata (Tokyo Sonata)


I had no idea that Kiyoshi Kurosawa is known for his horror movies (a genre that I do not particularly like), but from following fests I knew that this film was no horror at all and once more I find a reason to be so glad to follow fest as otherwise I would have missed this great movie.

Have to start by telling you that after watching for a while I couldn’t relate to what was happening in the story. It was like if what I was watching made no sense to my western eyes. Then suddenly I realized that the problem was that the story was set in modern times, as if the story was set before and the characters were wearing traditional Japanese clothes then everything will have made sense as definitively the film is quite similar to any of Ozu’s ordinary families stories. Realizing this fact allowed me to think about what I already saw and what will follow with different “mentality” and definitively allowed me to enjoy more the story and the film. Perhaps this happened only to me, but just in case it happens to anybody else I had to share it, as this is an excellent film that for no reason should be dismissed as not extraordinary.

Kurosawa’s film tells about an ordinary family that hides things to not disturb their fragile existence. The father, Ryûhei Sasaki, lost his job and tells no one. The mother, Megumi Sasaki, feels lonely and not appreciated. The older son, Takashi Sasaki, never is home and decides to leave Japan to join the US armed forces. The younger son, Kenji Sasaki, wants to learn to play the piano and his parents do not allow him. As everyday situations happen –and unexpected things start to happen- the story slowly unravels the drama that will change this family forever to allow them to have a fresh new start. But to me this is a story that deals with the ever changing/transforming Japanese society that has to deal with their strong cultural traditions while trying to cope to adapt to modern times and as such it becomes more universal, as applies to any society with strong traditions and new generations having real problems to follow old cultural rules and accepted behaviors.

Then the story also deals with something that is very relevant nowadays, the financial depression with companies downsizing and outsourcing to other countries with cheaper labor, high executives unemployment and their inability to find a similar new job and finally ending doing below their social status jobs; families lack of communication, generational lack of willingness to understand each other, and women that start trying to fulfill their empty lives but have no idea of what to do. So I can say that the story has many layers -as well as many readings- and will be up to the viewer to see whatever they want to see or want to relate to.

Also this is a movie where the finale is the climax that closes the movie in a grandiose way and makes sense to everything that you have watched, including the bizarre plot twist that allows the presence for a few minutes of great Kôji Yakusho that plays Dorobô, a character that propels Megumi liberation.

But the film develops quite flawlessly and very easy to watch what happens in the screen. Is when you try to tell others what is all about that becomes quite complex, as you all have realized by now with my long writing about the story.

Nevertheless the film as a film is quite spectacular with a grainy grayish cinematography that totally contributes to the Sasaki family spiral down to breakdown and absolutely allows the finale to become more grandiose. Performances are truly outstanding with Teruyuki Kagawa impressive performance as severe Ryûhei trying to “save face” in front of his family members (he was also in the third story in Tokyo!); and both Kyôko Koizumi as Megumi and Inowaki Kai as Kenji delivering remarkable intense characters.

The film was premiered at 2008 Cannes at the Un Certain Regard section where won the Jury Prize and did the fest circuit to many accolades and honors, including Kurosawa winning Best Director at the 2008 Mar del Plata fest, Best Film and Best Screenwriter at the 2009 Asian Film Awards and Best Film at India’s 2008 Osian’s Cinefan fest.

Definitively a film that I highly recommend especially to those that truly enjoy Japanese cinema and one that I strongly suggest to watch until the very end as the movie climax and finale is truly extraordinary, outstanding to watch and to listen, and closes the bittersweet story in somehow an unexpected way.

Big Enjoy!!!

Watch trailer @ Movie On Companion

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