INTRODUCTION. In preparation for the Edinburgh Film Festival – for which a press pass has now been acquired – I thought that I would take a quick glimpse at the last film I’ve recently popped into the Playstation 3: Tokyo Sonata, winner of the Un Certain Jury Prize at Cannes in 2008. The disc had been sitting on my shelf for over two years before I finally put it on and I must admit that I wish I’d done so sooner. This is a sublime production.
CHARACTERS. Our protagonist is initially perceived to be Ryûhei Sasaki, administrative manager at a local company that has recently decided to relocate to China and outsource their staff- thereby making Ryûhei redundant. As the story progresses, we quickly begin to see that our former breadwinner isn’t so much a singular protagonist as he is a catalyst and lynchpin. Tokyo Sonata is not the narrative of a husband trying to conceal a state of unemployment from his family – in fact he does this with practical ease – but the narrative of an entire family whose dynamic is fraying at the ends, reeking of quiet desperation. Besides Ryûhei there is the seemingly deferential wife and my personal favourite character, Megumi. Her practical air and dutiful sense of maternalism is expressed by the mannerisms and facial expressions of a woman capable of much more; or rather, a woman desiring much more. She is altogether unpredictable and yet dependable. The two sons, Takashi and Kenji, have very little interaction with one another. The former is a high school graduate and therefore at a naturally tempestuous time of his life- at the crossroads, already braced to choose the path less taken. Kenji however is a youth with a lifetime before him and this quality, granted substantially to children, is one that our other characters find themselves unconsciously supporting or seeking or envying. In this way, I found them alternating between being relatable, sympathetic and villainous.
STORY. The no-spoiler rule is in effect on this blog. There is nothing here that a frequent cinema-goer will find unexpected in terms of intrigues or twists and yet it is difficult to predict what will happen next in the sequence of events, some of which are set days or weeks apart from each other. Tokyo Sonata manages to surprise without startling. The lives playing out onscreen will invite some notion of familiarity if not fondness- and just as its characters are desperate for better beginnings, we are desperate for them to have better endings. This is part of the charm. The pace of the film is decidedly neutral, rousing to a poignant crescendo towards its conclusions. Even then we understand that Time moves along with its own doldrum stride, regardless of unfolding dramas.
CONCLUSION. It’s a polished and unmistakably beautiful movie, aesthetically. I stretched my purse when I purchased the blu ray all those years ago and I certainly don’t regret it, although I don’t think that watching Tokyo Sonata in high definition is an integral part of the experience. I intend on seeing this again as it does stand up to a rewatch. There is a raw and inherently human core underneath all that aesthetic after all.
CHARACTERS: 8.5/10 STORY: 8/10 REWATCH FACTOR:7/10 OVERALL: 8/10