I really prefer the approach that Japanese directors take with dramatic films. While I haven’t seen every Japanese film in existence, the ones that I have seen, both old and new, take a very subtle and low-key approach with less dramatic music or cinematic cues. This allows the script and actors to speak for themselves instead of being coated with stylistic effects. Personally, I find this affects me more than watching overproduced dramas because you are less aware of what you are seeing as a product, and think of it as a window into the lives of real people. So that is one thing that I enjoyed about Tokyo Sonata.
However, I didn’t think every other aspect of the film, particularly the plot, as as flawless. It is a good film, don’t get me wrong, but after reading all the praise in the reviews of film critics, I felt a bit underwhelmed after completing it. The story revolves around a dysfunctional middle class family after the father has lost his job. So he wanders around the streets, lining up for free food, taking odd jobs, and lying to his family. Tension build up and he releases it on his family, yelling at his sons in an attempt to keep authority. Eventually everything goes wrong, each member of the family ends up being flung in completely different directions, each experiencing a “catharsis” of sorts. Some of these segments are more effective than others.
The questions the film asks, in the end, is about the roles that people play in society. The adults in the family move along in their ideal visions of what the trajectory of one’s life, as a business or as a housewife, is, and then become confused when their lives are thrown off that path unexpectedly. The father has worked at a company in the administration department, when one day he is sat down and asked to detail what specific skills he can contribute. His position can be filled for a quarter of the salary by outsourcing to China. What does he have that is needed by the company? He doesn’t have an answer. And when he looks for a new job, he is asked the same thing. What can he, a rejected middle-aged businessman, do that would give him an advantage over a younger, fresh graduate?
It’s a well made, subtle film that deserves much of it’s praise, even if I don’t think it’s the masterpiece that many are claiming it to be.
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