Kurosawa Kiyoshi is one of the most celebrated directors in the film industry in Japan. Kiyoshi is famous for films known as the J-horror genre, for instance, the Pulse (2001), Retribution (2006) and Cure (1997). In all these films, Kiyoshi explores themes of anger, loneliness, hopelessness, and dissatisfaction that depict the inherent terrors that exist within the human consciousness. However, in the film, Tokyo Sonata Kiyoshi delves into the drama genre illustrating the life of a conventional family in Japan. Kiyoshi through these films outlines and analyze some of the historical and contemporary phenomena present in Japan society today.
In this film, Kiyoshi talks about the instability of the Japanese economy and the effects it has on the families, the men, and the relationship between the family members. During this period, there were numerous economic problems in Japan. The film illustrates the crowding workspaces due to the economic instability that makes many people jobless. For example, in the movie the buildings that Ryuhei visits contain a massive number of people who are all looking for work. The director of the film includes numerous shots of the lines that people make on the agency doors to depict the over saturation of the employment sector in Japan. The number of people seeking employment is quite high and still maintaining a job quite difficult. Kiyoshi illustrates this phenomenon when Ryuhei loses his job challenging his role as the provider for his family. Many men in Japan are the breadwinners, and losing a job has a significant effect on the family as well as the esteem of an individual.
Additionally, Takeda affirms that the film contains an artificial-single-mother family unique to Japanese families (4). The trend began to gain prominence since the late twentieth century. The artificial-single-mother family consists of a family that has a father who is continuously absent from his family due to work obligations while the mother dedicates her time to ensure that the family functions normally, thus taking up the role of the father in the house (Takeda 10). Takeda posits that the absent fathers view their behavior as a male role that includes earning enough money to support the family. As a result, the Sasaki family lacks proper communication and emotional communication that leads to most of the problems in society. The lack of communication, affection, and spending time with the family is parallel to the traditional Japanese culture does not expect men to be affectionate to their families since it is a sign of masculinity (Mathews, 124). The Japanese perceive the notion of the salary man as an aspect that developed due to the Nationalist ideologies and a product of the rise of social construction (Roberson and Suzuki 6). The salary men do not view themselves as the epitome masculinity, completely sacrificing themselves for the sake of the family and that of their country. Ryuhei is dedicated to his work that he has no time for his family or friends, actively fulfilling the masculinity traditions of the Japanese while at the same time viewing himself as a loving father who sacrifices his life to provide for his family.
Kiyoshi in the movies examines the role of the mother and wife in Japan. Maxson asserts that the Nationalist ideas of motherhood in Japan dictate that women should joyfully sacrifice themselves for the sake of their children and family. Megumi is a prime example of the social constructs that plague women in Japan. Megumi fulfills her role as mother and wife as per the dictates of the society. In the film, she is continually cleaning cooking and looking after her family and rarely leaves homes unless she is doing shopping for the family. Working in her home is considered a formal job for Megumi, and she gets a monthly salary from Ryuhei.
Additionally, the film highlights the confinement and lack of freedom for many Japanese women. In the opening sequence of the movie, the director shows where Megumi goes to close the front door while the breeze blows through the house. However, on reaching the door, she pauses and reopens the door to let the wind blow on her face. The gesture shows how Megumi desires to have her freedom. In addition, she expresses interest in driving and visits a car dealership to look for a perfect car. The sales attendant in the car dealership immediately leads Megumi to a family car. The sales attendant to lead Megumi to the vehicle indicates that the society expects Megumi to sacrifice her comfort and desires and focus on her family.
Conversely, Megumi ignores the suggestion and focuses her attention on a red sports car. On the other hand, Megumi shows her son Takashi her newly acquired driver’s license. Takashi answers saying that she will never use the license. Takashi’s sentiments mirror the stereotypes in Japan society about the freedom of women. The organization confined women to their houses limiting their freedom to pursue their careers or interests in the world. Megumi knows that she will never use the driver's license and states that she only acquired it for identification. Kiyoshi comments on the female stereotypes about the division of labor and the freedom of woman in the society. Traditionally, a wife should take care of her home and her family.
Kiyoshi in Tokyo Sonata addresses the tradition of shame as depicted in the history of Japanese culture. Lachkar affirms that in Japan, people associate shame with guilt thus; cannot discuss or reveal actions and behaviors considered as shameful to anyone (306). Ryuhei loses his job when his company decides to fire him since he receives too much money. Ryuhei regards his unemployment status as a shameful action. When he gets home, he does not use the front door as he always does. Instead, he opts to use the side door to access his house.
Moreover, he does not discuss his situation with his family; he dresses up, as usual, the next day and leaves as if going to work. The lack of communication and attachment in the family does not provide a conducive environment for Ryuhei and Megumi to talk about his problems at work. They only communicate through the monosyllabic and hackneyed phrases that lack meaning (Rosenbaum 124). Anytime they speak, their conversations revolve around the children and other household requirements but fail to talk about their struggles as a couple.
As illustrated in the Tokyo Sonata film, the Sasaki family lacks a normal relationship due to the social constructs and expectations of traditions in Japan. Ryuhei's incapacity to establish a connection with his family especially the sons, is because he wants to assert dominance as the head of the home. Ryuhei more than often states that he is the parent thus has the authority to the house when his sons challenge his decisions. Fauve-Chamoux affirms that before the end of World War II, the arrangement of classifying Japanese families into the 'ie systems' became a common tradition (280). The main characteristic of this system revolved around devotion and loyalty to the head of the family and the patriarchal system. Thus, fathers held a significant position in the family systems and had the power to decide the fate of his family. The head of the family had the authority to punish any form of rebellion or disobedience actively perpetuating the servitude ideologies in Japanese traditions. In the film, Kiyoshi pays attention to the dominance aspect that Ryuhei exhibits signaling that the 'ie system' is still present in contemporary Japanese society.
On the other hand, Kiyoshi deliberately places conflicts within the home to disrupt the 'ie system' and illustrate how society is changing and adopting modern ideas in their families. The dining table in many families serves as a spot for family gatherings and a place to talks about the day’s activities while enjoying the relationship a family shares. The arrangement of the dining table shows the power structures in the family and confirms his authority as the head of the Sasaki family. However, the table becomes a site of family conflicts and a spot where the sons challenge the power of their father and the 'ie system.' Ryuhei argues with his son Takashi, and he states that joining the American army will provide a better platform for him to protect his family Ryuhei indicate that it is his job to protect the family. However, Takashi asks him that he says he is protecting the family but what does Ryuhei do all day. Ryuhei fails to answer the question since he is stunned by the disobedience and more because he has lost his job and has no means of providing and protecting the family.
In this film, Kiyoshi uses the characters to portray the history of the traditions in the Japanese society. He also examines how contemporary ideologies threaten to destabilize the foundation of the family in Japan. Ryuhei and Megumi have a perfect family, the wife Megumi excuse her duties as a wife and mother dutifully while Ryuhei assumes the masculinity role of men in Japan to provide for the family. Ryuhei is a typical Japanese man and depicts it through his traits. He does not display affection to his family, minimizes communication to include the topic of the children and the house, and sacrifices his life to work as a salary man for the family. However, his sudden unemployment challenges his ability to provide, and the children question his authority as depicted in the 'ie system.' Takashi uses the military opportunity to learn about the diversities of life, Kenji uses music to learn more about himself, Megumi uses her role as a mother to stand up to Ryuhei and ask him to listen to his sons while finding new freedom for herself. The film is informative as it outlines the destructive traditions and stereotypes of the cultures.
Fauve-Chamoux, Antoinette. The stem family in Eurasian perspective: Revisiting house societies, 17th-20th centuries. Vol. 11. Peter Lang, 2009.
Lachkar, Joan. "The rising power of Japanese women: A pop culture revolution." The Journal of psychohistory 41.4 (2014): 301.
Mathews, Gordon. "Can ‘a real man ‘live for his family?: Ikigai and masculinity in today’s Japan." Men and masculinities in contemporary Japan. Routledge, 2005. 127-143.
Maxson, Hillary. "Martial Motherhood in Modern Japan, 1905-1955." (2012).
Roberson, James E., and Nobue Suzuki, eds. Men and masculinities in contemporary Japan: Dislocating the salary man doxa. Vol. 56. Psychology Press, 2003.
Rosenbaum, Roman. "From the traditions of J-horror to the representation of kakusa shakai in Kurosawa's film Tokyo Sonata." Contemporary Japan 22.1-2 (2010): 115-136.
Takeda, Atsushi. "Critical reflections: Interpretation and analysis of Japanese women’s settlement experiences." The Qualitative Report 17.10 (2012): 1-15.