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Thursday, December 15, 2011

TOKYO SONATA (2008)

For the first two acts, this recent film from Kiyoshi Kurosawa is a well-observed family-crisis drama, with low-key perfs, naturally-sourced lighting & artless camerawork. But things go off-the-rails into highly charged melodrama in a third act that’s more Nick Ray than Rossellini. The change in tone never quite convinces, it's a bit of a curate’s egg, but oddly interesting, especially when things teeter out of control. The main storyline follows Dad as he finishes a downsizing/outsourcing project only to find himself a victim of his own success and newly unemployed. Hiding the facts from his wife & sons, he starts acting out, as do his teenage boys. One gets out by joining the military and the youngest uses his school lunch money to pay for secret piano lessons. But things really get strange in the last act when the well-known actor Kôji Yakusho shows up as a luckless burglar. He winds up kidnapping the wife; she winds up driving his stolen getaway car (her first time behind the wheel!); they stop at a mall where she discovers her husband working as a janitor. And what a day he’s had; he's just found a small fortune left in the stall at the Ladies’ Toilet! And that's just the start of it. Whatever possessed Kurosawa to juice things up with all this coincidental dramatic drivel? And how the hell was he able to make us go along with him? By the end, when the youngest son plays Claire de Lune to gain admission to a music academy, you may have rejected the whole film . . . or found yourself oddly moved.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: While Kiyoshi shares a name, if not any known lineage with that other Kurosawa, this film looks more in the direction of the great Yasujiro Ozu, specifically his sublime domestic dramedies I WAS BORN BUT . . . /’32 and its loose remake GOOD MORNING/’59.

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