Laid off and pretending to go to work every day

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Kurosawa Kiyoshi’s (Bright Future) 2008 “Tokyo Sonata” would have profited from some trimming, especially of the younger son playing “Claire de lune” and the father stumbling through garbage piled along the street.

Kagawa Teruyuki (Devils on the Doorstep, Sway) plays a business executive, Sasaki Ryûhei) who is made redundant by moving operations from Japan to China. Unable to tell his wife (Koizumi Kyôko [Kaza-hana, Hanging Garden]) that he no longer has a job, he puts on a dark suit and tie and goes off for the day on his usual schedule. He runs into a high-school classmate (Tsuda Kanji) who was laid off earlier and mentors him in unemployment survival tactics.

Mr. Sasaki is an authoritarian father, whose elder son, Takashi (the exceptionaly tall Koyanagi Yû) is already rebelling and out on his own a lot. Mr. Sasaki is stressed out and not earning money when the younger son, Kenji (Inowaki Kai) wants to take piano lessons. His father forbids it and he diverts his school lunch money for the lessons. When his father finds out that he is not the only one sneaking around and trying to keep Mrs. Sasaki from finding out, he is quite brutal.

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The wife-mother learns about both deceptions, and then is taken on a wild ride by an inexperienced and desperate burglar (Yokusho Koji). The stressors seem to me a bit piled on (straining credulity, upping the melodrama proportion, and the black humor proportion). The humiliation of a salaryman losing his salary and identity as an executive and having to take a job as a janitor in a shopping mall is acutely shaming for him. It exacerbates his concern about his lack of paternal authority.

Though the camera is not fixed, there are few closeups, and the inclusion of multiple characters in shots is reminiscent of Ozu, along with the focus on social change speeding family disintegration, the great Ozu theme. (The ending seems to have been added after the initial release, providing more catharsis than the, I think, longer version of the previous scene being the last one.)

The movie won the Un Certain Regard jury prize at Cannes. The disc includes a director and cast appearance after the first Tokyo showing following that win, and an hour-long making-of feature, as well as a trailer for the movie.

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

The phenomenon of men lost after being cut loose from jobs is only going to become more common from automation more than outsourcing (manufacturing is returning to the US, but with far fewer jobs performed by humans): see Elizabeth Kolbert’s “Rage Against the Machine.” For another view of a Japanese man adjusting to downward mobility, see “Departures.”

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