Tokyo Sonata (2008)

An uncommunicative Japanese family whose patriarch has lost his job is placed under the microscope in this Cannes award-winning melodrama by Kiyoshi Kurosawa.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #444

Dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa
2008 | Japan | Drama | 120 mins | 1.85:1 | Japanese
PG (passed clean) for thematic elements and brief strong language

Cast: Teruyuki Kagawa, Kyoko Koizumi, Yu Koyanagi
Plot: An ordinary Japanese family slowly disintegrates after its patriarch loses his job at a prominent company.
Awards: Won Un Certain Regard Jury Prize (Cannes)

International Sales: Fortissimo Films

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Family, Losing Job, Communication Problems
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: In Theatres
First Published: 14 Sep 2009
Spoilers: Mild

Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Tokyo Sonata is a well-written melodrama set in urban Tokyo. It centers on a family of four whose seemingly peaceful lives take a dramatic U-turn when their father loses his well-paying job. Worse still, he does not tell them about it. Apparently, everyone in the household seems to be unable to communicate effectively with each other.

The film explores the dangers of blind perceptions, mistrust, and hidden secrets in a typical Japanese family. Here, the father is conservative, authoritative and, to a certain extent, even abusive; the mother and the two sons, on the other hand, are adaptable, flexible and open to changes. 

The older son wants to join the American military because he feels Japan cannot provide him with anything hopeful; his younger brother insists on learning the piano after meeting a supportive freelance music teacher. Of course, these desires come under intense scrutiny from their father.

Kurosawa develops the lead characters very vividly, taking time to shape their attitudes toward life and their perceptions toward one another. In general, Tokyo Sonata makes a decent case study of a myriad of communication problems within the smallest unit of society. 

The script is well-thought out and the direction is straightforward. While the film does dwell into melodrama, its execution does not seem contrived. However, speaking in terms of pathos, Tokyo Sonata lacks the emotional pull of Yojiro Takita’s Departures (2009) or even Yoji Yamada’s Kabei: Our Mother (2008), two recent Japanese melodramas with similar themes.

The final piano recital sequence gives proper closure to the film. It features no dialogue, only the evocative sounds of a very touching piano composition passionately played by the younger son.

It is quite a remarkable conclusion which strongly suggests possible reconciliation and mutual understanding through the exclusive use of non-verbal expressions. It is perhaps the most stirring sequence in the entire film. 

Grade: B+



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