Kiyoshi Kurosawa | 2008 | 119 mins | Japan
Tokyo Sonata is very nearly Kyoshi Kurosawa's perfect film. However, the man's only 53 years old. If he created a flawless masterpiece now, where would he go for the rest of what I hope will be a long and fruitful career? There was much hubbub about Kurosawa's departure from his earlier, scarier films (Cure or Pulse, for example) with 2003's Bright Future (the jellyfish one - which for the record, I loved) but he brought it all back to his usual creep-tastic tone in films like 2006's horror/thriller Retribution. I was on the edge of my seat to see what he'd do next.
What he did was create a stunning meditation on identity, belonging, solitude, love, loneliness and family. When loyal and hardworking administrator Ryuhei Sasaki (Teruyuki Kagawa) loses his job to outsourcing, he can't face his new reality and begins the painful process of hiding his unemployment from his wife and two sons - rebellious teen Takashi (Yu Koyanagi) and the quiet Kenji (Kai Inowaki).
At home, the routines continue as normal, but it's clear that his wife Megumi (Kyoko Koizumi) knows that something is deeply wrong, though the lines of communication between the four family members have been severed for so long that it is impossible for them to find each other now.
As the family slowly drifts apart, mom and dad find themselves on rocky, unfamiliar ground, Kenji secretly takes piano lessons while Takashi considers joining the US Army, now recruiting in Japan.
As each person embarks on their journey of self-discovery and is pulled along by a series of seemingly random events, the family unit nearly ceases to exist. Poignant, beautifully shot and acted with impeccable emotion, Tokyo Sonata is, as I've said, near-perfect. Unfortunately, I felt that Kurosawa veered slightly too far into 'wacky' territory during the film's moving climax, which seemed out of place given the heartbreaking subtlety of the film otherwise.
Still, one of the most gorgeous and moving films I saw at TIFF this year, and one of the best horror-to-drama transitions any director has ever made. I regret not putting this one into my top three picks of the fest! What was I thinking. I should have broken the rules like Jeff and handed in five.