Saturday, November 21, 2009

TOKYO SONATA (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2008, Japan) Kenji’s family is a maelstrom of disharmony, the tonal hierarchy dissolving like random notes of a discordant sonata. Writer/Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa vivisects the living body of the nuclear family, the patriarchal authority fatally anesthetized. Though the film’s scalpel cuts deep into traditional Japanese values, it is applicable to any society whose moral foundation and family values are built upon the crumbling sandstone of sexism and social status. The father Ryûhei commands the household and defines himself within this power structure. He has a seemingly well paying job but his company downsizes to hire Chinese workers, saving the Company millions of dollars. It is a deeply troubling parallel between his role as powerful father and his submissiveness to the Company: a business that demands a religious loyalty, a zealous fealty even at the cost of the individual. Kurosawa captures Ryûhei dressed in his suit standing in food lines and desperately searching for employment, unable to tell his family that he has been fired. He spends his days diminishing into a fog of unrest while his wife, sensing the destructive secret, waits for someone to pull her from the quicksand of helplessness. Kurosawa’s mise en scene and lighting are a force of nature because he conveys very little information through dialogue: the flashing of a passing L-train through bamboo blinds like a searchlight revealing lies, unemployed businessman sitting isolated on pedestals eating their borrowed lunch, or the mother trapped between the ocean and her calamitous past mirroring Antoine’s desperate escape. The eldest son decides to join the US Army, to forsake his lineage while the youngest child Kenji is mesmerized by the twinkling rapture of a piano. Though his father forbids his lessons, Kenji steals lunch money and begins his journey. Kurosawa never shows Kenji playing the piano, only thumping away on a broken keyboard, and it is unknown until the final scene if he is truly talented. Meanwhile, a house divided must fall and it falls hard into despair and suicidal impulses, Ryûhei scrubbing toilets and the mother running away. But incongruous events bring them together again in a literally broken home, silent in their own thoughts. Kenji auditions for a respected Conservatory and he gently shines moonlight upon the tearful joy of the audience. Kenji finishes, bows and walks away while his father finally reaches out and brushes his hair in the first gesture of love. (A)

4 comments:

Shubhajit said...

I've heard a lot of positive stuff about this movie. And your review has further upped my interest. I really must now correct the blemish of not having watched it yet!!!

Alex DeLarge said...

Unfortunately not released yet in the US on DVD. I imported the Masters of Cinema Blu-ray from the UK. Worth every penny:)

smarthotoldlady said...

How do you even hear of these movies. I feel ashamed. A Kurosawa I never heard of? We do have two art cinemas in the neighborhood, but because of my deafness, I wait until movies come out on DVD for the captions.

I am amzed at the number of movies you manage to view. I'm lucky if I see two a week.

I am also amazed at your insights and how lyrically they are presented. Had you thought of doing a book of your reviews?

Alex DeLarge said...

Thank you for the kind words! I've thought about a small book of essays/reviews but often my dreams remain incorporeal...maybe I just need a little nudge:)