Sunday, July 18, 2010


The disintegration of a family is never easy to witness, and it seems even more disturbing when it is a Japanese family (well hinted at in the opening scene as a storm rolls in), because of the rigid need to maintain authority and keep up appearances. One of the benefits of watching foreign films is hopefully getting a glimpse into the workings of the world, and I was distrubed and interested by Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Tokyo Sonata (2008), as the viewer watchs a newly downsized middle-manager struggle to control his household and find employment commesurate with what he had once held. Although homelessness and unemployment are fairly well known in America, it somehow comes as a small shock when you see its portrayal in Japan. But several aspects of the film left me cold, and, even angry. The main character (played by Teruyuki Kagawa) is not a likeable fellow, and I don't think he was likable even before he lost his job. I certainly did not like the way he treated his wife, almost indifferently (one of the best and moving scenes is when she asks of help getting up from a couch, and yet her husband is so self-absorbed that he has already walked away), though she struggles to maintain a beautiful home and provide all the motherly responsibilities to him and their two sons. Taking into account some of the violence against his youngest son is partly a result of his emotional implosion from having to take demeaning (for him) employment (which I applauded actually, because he was willing to do it for his family, even if it hurt, rather than take an easier, more permananet, way out), he still does not seem one who could handle any threat to his authority. In fact, while not directly stated, I think he lost his job partly because he would not accept a downward position, which I know can be hard for anyone. His two sons both seem to have little real respect for him, want to get away from him. One decides to join the US military and the other attempts to play piano, despite dad's expressed refusal to alllow it on both counts. The younger one is especially bright and will fight against unchecked, overbearing authority, either by his teacher or father. The mother (played by a very lovely Kyoko Koizumi) is faithful and stalwart in keeping the family runnign along, even whne she knows her husband is lying to her. She maintains his authority and doesn't challenge him (can it truly be like that, or is she a weak character?), even when she could have blunted or even stopped him from certain of his decisions. The filmmaker, im think, tries to show that the father has redeeming qualities, such as his taking the poorer job, standing in handout lines, and givign back lost cash he has found, but it never really works, even the part in many western films where the father grudgingly acknowledges some special talent one of his offspring has exhibited. Basically, I just didn't like the guy. Even the piano teacher (Haruka Igawa), who should have been a more likeable character, just doesn't seem to pull it off. In the end, I enjoyed the movie for the most part, but I wouldn't place it in the highest rank. I wonder how my Japanese friends reacted to it, as I am sure there were cultural clues that simply went over my head.

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