Like a bottled message cast from the shores of an economy whose implosion precipitated our own, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Tokyo Sonata centers on Ryûhei (Teruyuki Kagawa), a 46-year-old middle manager for a health-care equipment company who learns that his entire department is being outsourced to China. Like the similarly downsized businessman of Laurent Cantet's Time Out, Ryûhei guards the news from his wife, Megumi (the excellent Kyôko Koizumi), continuing to don his suit and tie for a daily triathlon of dead-end job interviews, soup-kitchen lunches, and afternoons whiled away at a public library. Meanwhile, Ryûhei's youngest son, Kenji, a bright-eyed sixth-grader, pockets his lunch money to pay for the piano lessons to which his dad has firmly said no; and in a further affront to Ryûhei's already fragile masculine authority, eldest son Takashi calmly announces that he's joining the U.S. military. Like that most revered of Japanese directors, Yasujiro Ozu, Kurosawa (best known for his series of supernatural horror films) here uses the microcosm of family to reflect a changing Japanese society—one that he sees staggering awkwardly into the 21st century, weighed down by faltering notions of tradition and a profound lack of internal communication. Fittingly, when hope arrives, it does so guised in chaos, and we, like the characters on screen, perk up our heads to glimpse it.
Kagawa confronts the new economy.
Runs at Northwest Film Forum, Fri., March 27–Thurs., April 2. Rated PG-13. 119 minutes.