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MOVIE REVIEWS

'Tokyo Sonata' a timely tale of family crisis

Also reviewed: 'Three Monkeys,' Nuri Bilge Ceylan's mordant neo-noir from Turkey.

March 27, 2009|Kevin Thomas

Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Tokyo Sonata" could scarcely be more timely or prescient. It opens with his hero, Ryuhei Sasaki (Teruyuki Kagawa), losing his job as an administrative director at a healthcare equipment company. A classic middle-management, middle-class man, Sasaki is so devastated by this sudden turn of events that in his pride he can't admit his fate to his dutiful wife, Megumi (Kyoko Koizumi), and their two sons, Takashi (Yu Koyanagi) and Kenji (Kai Inowaki).

Sasaki quickly learns he lacks specialized skills that would ensure him a new job as well-paying and respectable as the position he has lost. It is a plight, however, that Kurosawa -- who is not related to the late, great filmmaker Akira Kurosawa -- finds endlessly revealing as he deconstructs Sasaki as a traditional Japanese male, a stern master of his household while the resourceful, resilient Megumi discovers just how unhappy she really is.

The real rebel in the family is the courageous and outspoken Kenji, whose passion for the piano is dismissed out of hand by his father. His older brother's surprising desire to enlist in the U.S. Army and his reasons for wanting to do so speak to Japan's sense of military impotence that has endured since the country's defeat in World War II.

"Tokyo Sonata" is bold, acutely observant and universal in its wide-ranging concerns and implications. Although it was surely conceived before the worldwide economic recession hit, its insights apply all the more forcefully now. So strong a director is Kurosawa that he not only can get away with piling on disasters but makes his picture all the more powerful as a result.

-- Kevin Thomas

"Tokyo Sonata." MPAA rating: PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language. In Japanese with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 59 minutes. In selected theaters.

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'Three Monkeys': pleasing neo-noir

Turkey's leading filmmaker, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, won the best direction prize at Cannes last year for the psychologically suspenseful, spare and contemplative neo-noir "Three Monkeys," a stunningly visual mastery of moods.

On a countryside road in a pitch-dark night a car fatally strikes a pedestrian. The driver, Servet (Ercan Kesal), a bald, husky 50-ish politician running for office, bribes his chauffeur, Eyup (Yavuz Bingol), to take the blame for the accident, which sends the man off to prison for a year. Meanwhile, Eyup's slacker son Ismail (Ahmet Rifat Sungar), who's just failed his university entrance exam for the second time, persuades his mother, Hacer (Hatice Aslan), to ask for the payoff from Servet in advance so he can buy an expensive car. The darkly sensual Hacer doesn't resist the forceful Servet's sexual overtures in sealing the deal. The plot kicks in in earnest once the burly, mustached Eyup leaves prison early for good behav- ior.

Unpredictable and gratifying, "Three Monkeys" emerges as a mordant cautionary tale on the contagiousness of corruption. It is rich in atmosphere: The chauffeur's apartment has a spectacular view of a bay, but between it and the sea are a railroad and a freeway. The ugliness that mars the town's beautiful setting is scarcely only visual.

-- Kevin Thomas

"Three Monkeys." MPAA rating: Unrated. In Turkish with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes. At Landmark's Nuart, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 281-8223.

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