“Tokyo Sonata” Review

No, I’m not being paid to mention that in three weeks, “Tokyo Sonata” is coming to Cleveland, Ohio. I want to mention that to anyone who lives in the Greater Cleveland area because I’m about to give a positive review, and hopefuly a good reason to go and see it. Links to the website for more information on the prices (most people, $8), directions and the two showtimes are on the bottom of this post.

I saw this movie in Honolulu, Hawaii, and am likely among the first in the Cleveland area who has even seen this movie. So, I hope to provide an impartial yet positive review for this movie. In short, “Tokyo Sonata” plays out like a dream, where in the end you almost forget whatever has happened the past two hours and just realize that dream.

The movie follows a typical Tokyo family-a father and mother who raise two boys in Japan’s capital. The father has just lost his job, but instead of informing anyone in the family, he attempts to find other job opportunities in the big city whilst his family thinking he is still working at the same place. Meanwhile, the mother takes notice to both of her sons’ needs-one who is in sixth grade, and close to moving onto middle school, and the other who is considering military opportunities with America.

The movie mainly follows the mother, the father and the younger of the two sons, without really following the older son exclusively. The older son’s story is almost always told with one of the other aforementioned three characters present. Save for one scene, the older son is seen with the other characters whenever his story is unraveled. While some film critics have criticized the telling of the story of the older son, perhaps being either unnecessary or too political, I find the story not being about politics so much as about how this chapter in the older son’s life shapes the father character, Ryuhei.

We find that the Ryuhei’s ideas about being the head of the household play out with the other characters, and we see a little pride in his character. Perhaps expectedly, the mother is open to what both of the sons want for their lives. Kenji, the younger son, wants to play piano, and he seems to see this as a dream skill for him, being in a transition from elementary school to middle school.

Many tinier stories seem to collide with the main plot, or plots, if you will. There’s a certain tension between Kenji and his teacher, for example. Also, the telling of a story of one of Ryuhei’s acquaintances reveals a truth as to what occurs with many Japanese families who go unemployed. While both stories’ outcomes are purposefully unpredictable, one who knows Japanese culture may sit back and realize that these ‘tinier stories’ reveal truths about modern Japan. And while some critics found the stories to be unnecessary because of how quick they are resolved, they play so intricately into the main characters’ lives in such a small, simple way that I find them absolutely necessary to telling this story.

The movie veers into “disturbing territories,” as CIA (host instiution of the Cleveland Cinematheque) describes, and I might agree that the new plot that is introduced into the mother character’s life (Megumi) is a little weird. I don’t want to say it’s unnecessary as it gives a sort of curve to her character, but it was definitely weird. Hopefully without spoiling anything, a new character is introduced into her life and then suddenly is taken out of the story. I remember Brad Bird’s commentary on “The Incredibles”, how he opted not to put a certain character in the movie to avoid having him leave the plot so suddenly.

“Sonata” director Kiyoshi Kurosawa is hardly famous in America for his work, save for a couple of his horror movies, perhaps the original “Pulse”. I happened to see two of his past works, “Bright Future” and “Doppelganger”, which were both horror-esque movies, though I would not call either movie a conventional horror movie. Nevertheless, Kurosawa has always applied his own rules to his movies, and although I felt it didn’t work well for Doppelganger, and at times Bright Future, whatever realms this movie enters into, it is all forgotten in the end. All I’ll say is that the ending is so strong and powerful that in my opinion, you really will forgive any ‘strange’ plotline and just marvel at what the movie accomplished for its characters.

All in all, this is a wonderful, perhaps quirky little movie that in the end becomes as simple as life could be. For how involved the first 105 minutes of the movie is, the last 10 or so minutes is so well done that you begin to realize exactly why the older son’s story, Takashi, of going into the military is so important. You begin to realize why the father has changed his ‘tune’ with regards to his attitudes towards his sons. You begin to realize just how wonderful and beautiful this story of a family has become. The movie really does build up to the last 10 minutes, and the movie ends with a bang, however sentimental, simple or small it may seem. This movie is a must-see!

My rating: 9/10

For those who don’t live in the Cleveland, OH area, please check the movie’s official website for the release schedule, which is hopefully in your area. The Cleveland Institute of Art’s Cleveland Cinematheque will be showing the movie once on Friday, June 19th and one more time the following night on Saturday the 20th. Please check the Cleveland Cinematheque website for more information on the facility, directions, admission prices (again, $8 for most people) and the movie itself. The official website also has a few clips, but they contain spoilers, so be careful when deciding to watch the clips. For a high-quality trailer, visit Apple.com’s movie website, also linked below.

Official Website: http://www.tokyosonatamovie.com/
Cleveland Cinematheque: http://www.cia.edu/academicResources/cinematheque/cinematheque.php
High-Quality Trailer (Apple): http://www.apple.com/trailers/independent/tokyosonata/

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  1. […] another movie that I have reviewed. It is the best movie of modern Japanese cinema, and really helps define what it should be aiming […]

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