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Tokyo Sonata

Japan (2008), 120 minutes
Starring: Teruyuki Kagawa, Kyoko Koizumi, Yu Koyanagi
Reviewer: Jeremy Silman
Genre: Drama
Rating: 5

Like the Academy Award winning Departures, this film is about the worldwide economic meltdown, and the trials and tribulations people go through that lose their jobs. Also like Departures, music plays a large part in the story. But where Departures had a quiet tone, Tokyo Sonata is always on the verge of frenzy, though it rarely falls off that ledge.

Here we see businessman Sasaki (Teruyuki Kagawa) leading a normal life with a good job, a lovely wife, and two teen sons. However, layoffs leave him among the unemployed and, ashamed of his inability to find a new job, he hides the fact from his family. Instead, Sasaki rises for “work” day after day, goes to an outdoor soup kitchen for the unemployed and/or homeless, and chats with a friend who is in the same situation he is.

As Sasaki’s self respect fragments, so does his behavior at home. Soon his wife feels that something is wrong, but when she finds out, she doesn’t say anything since it would add to his humiliation. In the meantime, the oldest son doesn’t know what to do with his life while the youngest son discovers that he’s in love with the piano, though Sasaki refuses to let him pursue it.

Naturally, each member of the family soon goes into a state of personal despair, with the oldest son joining the Army and going to Iraq, the youngest using his lunch money for piano lessons with a young, beautiful teacher, and the wife trying (but failing) to hold the family together.

Things get worse and worse (and more and more interesting!), and just when the movie could become a wreck, things come together, the clouds part, and everything makes sense.

Tokyo Sonata mixes foreboding, the fear we all have of losing control of our lives, the search for identity and self-worth, and out-of-control chaos, to show us that some dreams come true, others don’t, and life can take paths that we never saw coming.

Great writing, a steady directorial hand, wonderful performances, and a spot-on perfect ending makes this as good a film as you’ll ever see. As much as I like Departures, Tokyo Sonata is even better.