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Tokyo Sonata

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Jacqueline Mercado
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Tokyo Sonata

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.     

Dennis O'Connell
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Tokyo Sonata

I enjoyed the first half of this movie as it dealt with the real life problem facing a lot of people in industrialized nations: what to do when laid off from a job?  The movie accurately shows how the man's self esteem is greatly affected when he loses his job due to downsizing and hiring cheaper labor from China.  The urban landscape and bustle of public transport are on display as the movie progresses.  The man finds he is not alone in his search for a new job.  Lines are long at the hiring locations and at the free food lines for laid off workers.  Sadly, the man does not want to share any of his woes with his wife.  He keeps her in the dark, but she ends up discovering it on her own.  The man takes out some of his frustrations on his own sons, resorting to manhandling them from time to time.  The whole family suffers from disfunction.  The sons are acting out in school or not returning home at night.  The wife seems to be holding everything together, but when she eventually unravels, the movie degenerates along with her.  

I am not sure how I could use this film in my classroom.  I teach third grade, so some of the issues may be above their heads.  The first part of the movie gives a glimpse into life for urban dwellers in Japan, but the last half of the movie is a nightmare I would never show students.  One son goes off to the military, the other son goes to jail for a night then watches a boy get beat up by his father.  The father gets a menial job which drives him to run directionless through the streets, through garbage on the side of the road, and in front of a van so he can be hit and lay in the gutter all night.  The mother gets bound and gagged in her own home, then leaves willingly with the kidnapper to "start fresh".  Left me shaking my head and so glad for the ending credits, which incidently coincide with an odd choice of background sounds.  I am open to hearing how others "interpret" this film and what redeeming qualities it could have in a classroom.