Tokyo Sonata

4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Kiyoshi Kurosawa—no relation to the big guy, Akira—sees the end of the world in just about everything. Breaking away from his peers, he transcended J-horror hackdom with 1997’s doom-laced Cure, a movie about cultists that nonetheless proved that serial killers could also be slackers in floppy sweaters. (The Aum Shinrikyo subway attack wasn’t far from mind.) Pulse, Kurosawa’s millennial 2001 ghost-in-the-machine thriller, ended in a vision close to global extinction.

So as strong winds pick up in Tokyo Sonata, you expect the worst. As it happens, Ryhei (the impressively dour Kagawa) does lose his middle-management job that morning, certainly a kind of personal apocalypse. He chooses to not tell his wife and boys, one of whom, college-age, hopes to join the American military. Dinnertime revelations like this lead the viewer to an admirable realization: Kurosawa is growing up, modulating his formula, successfully moving into Magnolia-like domestic-meltdown territory.

That is, of course, until he reverts to the Cassandra we know and love. After a leisurely first hour, Tokyo Sonata suddenly makes room for a home invader with a knife. (Tearing off his ski mask, this spectacularly inept criminal turns out to be lovable Kurosawa regular Kji Yakusho.) Mom gets kidnapped, Dad gets exposed at his mall-mopping detail, and the movie slides into a kind of bizarre hyperreality that makes its desperation slightly hallucinatory but, paradoxically, more moving. It won’t take much prodding to find resonance in the spectacle of a besuited salaryman wandering a park aimlessly. But driving to the shore at the point of a blade: There’s a dark fantasy of strange potency.--Joshua Rothkopf

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