Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Overlooked DVD of the month - TOKYO SONATA

Japan is the only country where the unemployment rate has a positive correlation with the suicide rate. From such a statistic, J-horror director turned dramatist, Kiyoshi Kurosawa carves a story of a contemporary Japanese family in emotional crisis. Typically authoritarian father and salary man, Ryuhei Sasaki (Teruyuki Kagawa) cannot bear the loss of face involved in telling his family that he has lost his job. Similarly, repressed housewife Megumi (Kyoko Koizumi) cannot bear to tell her husband that she knows he now has a job as a lavatory cleaner. Their sons try to find meaning in a society based on rules of appearance and repression. Elder son Taka (Yu Koyanagi) is so desperate for purpose he joins the US Army and younger son Kenji (Inowaki Kai) deceives his parents by taking piano lessons.

The direction and framing capture the ennui and embarrassment of modern life - of people psychologically buckling under the weight of societal expectations. It's a simultaneously beautiful and disturbing film - anchored by a searing performance from Kyoko Koizumi as the mother. The only mis-step is a third act filled with action that borders on absurd, but all is forgiven with a painfully beautiful resolution of sorts, with perhaps the best use in film of Clair de Lune.

TOKYO SONATA played Cannes, where it won the Un Certain Regard prize, and Toronto 2009 and was released in Japan last year. It is available on DVD.

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