Economic ruin seems to be all the rage these days - since the Japanese have gone through it all in the 90's they have a bit of a head start over addressing it artistically. This is Kurosawa's take on the humiliation job loss delivers to the Japanese male, and the ennui of modern middle class Japanese life. Someone once wrote that every Japanese film maker eventually does his 'Ozu' movie, and for the first hour this seems to be Kurosawa's. It starts out as a beautifully observed family drama, when a very ordinary Japanese family goes about their business, unaware that the father Ryuhei has been made redundant - his company realises they can cut costs by shipping out all admin to Dalian in China. In very Japanese fashion, he pretends nothing has happened, going to 'work' all day, which consists of sitting around waiting for food handouts, then coming home pretending everything is normal. In the meanwhile his oldest son fails to find a meaningful job and his youngest is struggling at school. His wife Megumi (a very fine performance by Kyoko Koizumi) keeps the family ticking over. It seems to be well on its way to a quiet drama about a family coping under strain, but then the Ozu gives way to a bit of Haruki Murakami style magical realism - all sorts of unlikely events and coincidences take place, forcing everyone to confront their failures. This includes a frankly bizarre subplot featuring Iraq and what seems a pointless one about a kidnapping. It all ties together with an ending that thankfully falls just short of too much sentimentality. It is an intriguing film, and one that does at least attempt to tackle real issues and themes in family life. Unfortunately, I think it is ultimately something of a failure - too often it meanders away in a manner that made me suspect the film maker just didn't know where the narrative was going. I think in making this Kurosawa watched a lot of Ozu - its a pity he didn't listen to Ozu's advice that too much plot means you are manipulating your characters, and if you are manipulating them, you are not respecting them. I would consider this film to be an honorable failure, but still a failure on its own ambitious terms.
An ordinary Japanese family slowly disintegrates after its patriarch loses his job at a prominent company.
March 20, 2020