The film Tokyo Sonata by Kiyoshi Kurosawa tells the story of a modern Japanese family living in Japan. It depicts the tensions that arise from the pressures of modern living, the breakdown of communication within the family, but like a musical composition (hence the title), the story climaxes then unfolds into a new and hopeful beginning for the characters and family. It tells the story of a father who loses his job due to job outsourcing but does not tell his family, instead pretends to go to work every day, Kenji, his son, who wants to play the piano but cannot because his father opposes the idea, a stay at home mother who wishes for a new beginning, and Takashi, who joins the American army. The film offers a view of different aspects of Japanese culture such as the patriarchal role of the father in the family, the schism in the way the father and his two sons view the world and the importance of keeping appearances even if the characters end up living inauthentic lives as both Kenji and his father live secret lives: the father pretends to go to work even after he is fired and Kenji secretly takes piano lessons. Happily, through a series of strange scenes which seem to end in a climactic revelation, the characters achieve authenticity and empathy for each other.
I view this film as a coming of age story as the main character is Kenji, who begins a revolution against his teacher in school and stands up to his authoritative father at home. Because he really wants to play the piano and his father opposes the idea, Kenji secretly pays for piano lessons with his lunch money. Kenji's determination to pursue his dream despite his father's opposition, leads us to one of the themes of this film, which is that there is beauty in following one's dream and becoming your authentic self.
I found this movie to be delightful and compassionate and think my students might relate to Kenji and the family drama and like the overall positive message. I believe there is value in exposing students to foreign films in that through the experience, they can learn to appreciate cultural nuances in the film and also see that these films express universal truths and experiences we can all relate to.