Written March 29, 2009
Gorgeous and moving. I almost bursted into tears at the end (my girl friend did). Not only does this film have so much value as a social and cultural commentary, the production, story telling and emotional content of this film are all top notch.
What the overview and many reviews don't mention is that this otherwise very unhappy story is interlaced with so much comedic elements and excellent characters (like Yakusho) that it doesn't feel heavy or slow. Also, some reviews describe it as "surreal," but I cannot disagree more. It is about a fairly typical, rather dysfunctional Japanese family, and the movie isn't about the hardship of this family, but rather about a hope that such a family can have despite the hardship.
Not only is this film an official selection at Cannes, this film actually won the Jury Prize, and rightfully so.
Written May 31, 2009
Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa hit all the right notes in this drama that starts off as a stark drama about the downsizing and outsourcing of Japanese jobs to China when longtime company man Ryuhei (a very slow burn performance by Teruyuki Kaguma) finds himself suddenly hiding the fact from his wife and children that he unemployed. His deceit takes its toll on the stability of not only his emotionally fragile wife but also that of his two sons, one of whom joins the American Army and the other uses his school lunch money to pay for desired piano lessons. About 2/3rds of the way through the movie, it definitely changes tone as it veers into a very odd absurdist view of certain aspects of being alienated and desperately attempting to keep up appearances. The climax centers on the young boy being discovered as a piano prodigy and is filmed doing an entire "sonata" in real time and what appears to be authentic playing by the young boy. Not for all tastes in its style but definitely different!