On Saturday night, I caught up with Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Tokyo Sonata at the New York Film Festival. Kurosawa’s Cannes prize-winning drama did not disappoint. Kurosawa is primarily known as an expert Japanese horror director, and that makes Tokyo Sonata quite a departure. While some have said it’s still “scary,” the film is a domestic drama about the slow unraveling of a middle-class family in Tokyo.
When a tireless salaryman is downsized out of his corporate job, he is unable to confess the truth to his supportive housewife and his two sons. Instead, Sasaki-san leaves home every day with his suit and briefcase, in a charade to pretend that everything is fine at work. Meanwhile, he’s applying for jobs and eating free lunches at a homeless center. At home, his family is strained, as young son Kenji secretly explores his passion for piano, and teen-age son Takashi enrolls in the Army. Tokyo Sonata, like an Alan Ball story, becomes a seriocomic portrayal of the way a seemingly privileged clan faces dysfunction and crisis.
Where the film goes in the third act is a little uncomfortable, but I was with it. I think this is a strong slice of life, and a very universal saga. Plus, while the tone shifts throughout, Kurosawa maintains an entertaining knack for delving into the subtle drama of family struggle. Tokyo Sonata next screens at the AFI Festival in November, and will have its U.S. theatrical release in March, courtesy of Regent. Check it out.