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The film tells the story of Ryūhei who is laid off at the start of the movie, due to his company's employment of cheap labour from China. Afraid to tell his wife and family, in fear that he will no longer have the authority and respect that he deserves, he pretends he still has a job and goes to work every day as usual. The film deals with the fear of losing everything one has in life. It deals with themes of dishonesty, pride, anger, fear, anxiety, rejection, suicide, rebellion, starting over, lust and in my personal view, the human need to depend on a system of laws and norms.
In its early stages, the film often tries to depict redundancy in funny moments. I loved the character of Kurosu, who tries to hang on to what he has left by looking busy and setting his mobile phone alarm to ring to show people how busy he is. It reminds me of what I did in the early stages of my redundancy and how it gave me a massive sense of wellbeing. He even invites Ryūhei to dinner, by asking him to act like a colleague at work and discussing a fake business meeting at the dinner table, while his wife and daughter are there. At this dinner, we learn that all is not what it seems and Kurosu's wife knows that something is not right. There is an uncomfortable silence in this scene, which suggests to the viewer that the good manners and politeness that the scene encompasses are only acting as a veil to prevent us from seeing what redundancy has done to this family. It is not long before the film takes a darker, more depressing turn as Kuruso and his wife, commit suicide. In reality it is very sad and true that some people will not survive job loss and will be so ashamed of their position, that they will eventually take their own lives. I think the director is very right to place emphasis on this, as many films that have been made about redundancy in the past, have failed to do so.
Based on my experiences, the film accurately portrays the emotions a person will go through after loss of a job. If I have one criticism of the film it is that it fails to addresses the issue of materialism and spiritual emptiness that many modern day white collar, office jobs encompass. There is an old saying, which I am sure many of the readers are familiar with, which says "the bigger you are the harder you fall". We are all part of a hierarchal society, a 'dog eat dog' world, where we want to go higher up as fast as we possibly can. We want to live under the veil of a middle class, bourgeoisie lifestyle, wear the best suits, have the best hairstyles, drive the best cars, eat the best food and live in the biggest houses. The cost of this though is that there is no guarantee that the profession that you have chosen, despite the fact that you have dedicated your life to it, with love you back but rather will resent you and leave you with nothing. I think that one of the main reasons why Ryūhei struggles with unemployment is his lack of spiritualism and dependence on such a hierarchical role for so long, until he has been made redundant. He is unable to find work, because his skills as a Administrative Director are no longer required. Therefore when he is made redundant, we really get to see how insecure the guy really is, not just in his work life but also his family life. He is the sole money provider in the house but is very rarely there for his wife and kids. He wants to maintain authority in the house and is afraid to lose power, whether it is to his elder son, who despite his parents requests, joins the US military or the younger son, who wants to learn how to play the piano. In most of the film, the character shows very little attention to his wife and kids and is only seen eating with them in moments of uncomfortable silence. In one moment after returning to work, he even ignores his wife's request to take her to bed, despite her being the only person who is actually holding the family together. The film takes a much darker turn near to its closing stages, with the stories of the wife, husband and younger son being looked into more deeply. We learn that they are all want to 'start over' again by somehow erasing their lives, in the wife's case (who becomes ashamed after finding out her husband is working as a janitor) wishing that her life was a dream despite originally and despite giving perception of caring angelic mother, we learn even she is capable of prejudice against her own loved ones. Without giving too much of the ending away, I will say that the family does eventually come to terms with the changes that it has gone through and things do get better over time.
I liked Tokyo Sonata, because it is one of those rare films that deals with a serious issue that very few people will truly sympathise with, unless they have experienced the situation for themselves. It is a wakeup call collar professionals and people in power, because is sheds light on how meaningless their lives are likely to be when the veil of 'normality' is lifted from their lives.
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