Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Tokyo Sonata

As you may know, I like Japanese horror movies – and my favourite is Pulse. I don’t think it’s a popular movie, it’s slow and doesn’t make much sense, but I like it because it’s creepy and atmospheric and quite melancholy, and has a lot of memorable scenes in it.
The director, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, has a new, ‘normal’ movie out, Tokyo Sonata, which I finally got round to seeing last night. Wow… What a beautiful movie. I had heard it is slow, and my attention span is non-existent at the best of times (how I struggled during Milk!), but I wasn’t bored for a single minute.
Tokyo Sonata follows the story of a normal Japanese family. The father is made redundant and tries to hide it from his family, trying to cling onto the last shreds of his dignity. The youngest son is a free spirit trying to find his path in life. Eventually he finds it, despite his father’s best efforts to ruin it. The oldest son (quite weakly drawn) is also searching for meaning in his life, and thinks he finds it by joining the US army, much to the horror of his parents. And then there’s the mother, devoted housewife, doing such an amazing job, but not realizing how badly her thankless life has affected her.
It’s a devastatingly powerful film. The characters are wonderful, and you just want to reach inside the movie and hug them or give them a good shake. The father’s story is very powerful and actually shifts very fluidly from comedy to sadness to hope. You really root for the poor guy, however frustrating his behaviour can be. There’s a bizarre little twist in the middle, which sometimes threatens to get too over the top, but somehow doesn’t.
And there are three beautifully realized moments which radiate pure emotion and really pull at the heart strings. There’s the ending, which I won’t spoil here. There’s the moment when you realize that the parents have become dead inside, because they’ve been fighting so hard to keep their family going and to keep their kids happy – not aware, til now, that their kids don’t really need their help to achieve their goals. So what was the point…?
And there’s the moment where the mother, shattered and emotionally dying, exhausted by everyday life, lies on the sofa. The husband comes home and she doesn’t have the energy to get up. She puts her arms in the air to get help in getting up, but doesn’t realize her husband has just gone straight upstairs. She keeps her arms in the air for a while. “Lift me up,” she says. “Can somebody please lift me up.” I think we all need that from time to time.
The film is quite open-ended, and I could happily have watched 3 more hours of it, but you feel – and hope – that things are looking up for the family.

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