Tokyo Sonata *** 1/2

Inowaki Kai in "Tokyo Sonata," in which silence shocks, music soothes.
Inowaki Kai in "Tokyo Sonata," in which silence shocks, music soothes.
Posted: May 01, 2009

Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. In Japanese with English subtitles. 2 hours. PG-13 (violence, mature themes) Playing at: The Ritz at the Bourse.

In Tokyo Sonata, filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa - no relation to Akira - composes an extraordinary work in three movements about the Sasakis, a seemingly ordinary family. In this unpredictable work, the clan implodes, explodes, and glues itself back together.

When management at his firm finds it can hire two Chinese workers for the price of one Japanese employee, Mr. Sasaki (Teruyuki Kagawa) loses his job - and face. Rather than swallow his pride and be open with his wife and sons, the salaryman swallows his anger - and chokes on it.

Sasaki's secret has seismic reverberations for his wife and sons. They, in turn, privately nurse their own secrets. As communication breaks down, so does the strict routine of the household and, ultimately, Sasaki's authority.

All of this is expressed in visual compositions compartmentalized as a bento box and in an unsettling use of sound.

When his younger son asks for piano lessons, Sasaki vehemently forbids them. Because he knows that he can't afford them? Because the jobless administrator is threatened by his son's artistic leanings? Because "no" is his last vestige of power?

In this film where music is most significant, it is silence that achieves maximum emotional impact. It is silence that isolates the individual Sasakis more effectively than soundproof booths. It is silence where their inner demons are loudest. It is silence that creates the palpable sense of unease.

And it is music that draws the family back together, calming these agitated souls. Astonishing.

- Carrie Rickey

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