Tokyo Sonata (Japan-Netherlands-Hong Kong, 2008)

'Who are you looking at?'

‘Who are you looking at?’

I found this a frustrating film as, after a fabulous two thirds, it charges off into  absurd narrative developments. As the image above suggests, this is a dysfunctional family headed by a recently fired ‘salaryman’. The framing in the home is terrific, using stairs, doorways etc. to divide family members, as in the melodramas of Minnelli, Ophuls and Ray. Add to that the almost-surreal images of long queues in an employment agency stairwell and besuited business men amongst tramps at a ‘soup kitchen’ (they can’t afford lunch) you get a marvellous representation of how changes in Japanese business are throwing men onto the scrap heap; the protagonist, Sasaki Ryuhei, has lost his job as admin has been cheaply outsourced to China.

Sasaki’s wife is bored, stuck at home constantly tending to her family’s needs; his sons are alienated from work and school.  He cannot come to terms with his loss of job so maintains, like Michael Douglas in Falling Down (1993), his daily routine of going to work. This long set up is fantastic but maybe the scriptwriters didn’t know how to finish it? Roy likes that ‘fantastical’ elements, for me they worked against the tone of what happened earlier; the moment the narrative flashes back ‘3 hours earlier’ the film lost its grip on me.

Still, the film’s worth seeing for the first part and maybe you will enjoy what happens after.


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