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raymac Written by raymac
Mar. 27, 2009 | 12:35 AM

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An Interview with director Kiyoshi Kurosawa of TOKYO SONATA

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Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa and actor Teruyuki Kagawa

You have ventured outside of the horror genre before, most notably in BRIGHT FUTURE. Even then, TOKYO SONATA seems like quite a departure for you in terms of your filmmaking.

I am hoping that TOKYO SONATA will be received by the audience as a film unlike any of my previous works. It’s been exactly 10 years now since my film was first introduced overseas. During those years, a new generation of filmmakers (those that are much younger than I am) have continuously been introduced to the world. New trends in cinema such as J-Horror have occurred, and I myself have worked to keep riding the waves of the times as well. However, I could not shake off the feeling that they are only the extensions of what we failed to do in the 20th century; I felt that it was about time I reflect on my filmmaking once more from an entirely different perspective.

The theme I am most concerned with right now is what kind of generation the 21st century truly is. Why is it so muddled and confused? Why is it so vastly different from the vision of the future we had in the previous century? Who is responsible for the way things turned out? It is difficult to find the answer. TOKYO SONATA was created so that I would not back down in the face of this complex problem, and I expect it to become a new point of departure for me.

Your films are known for their allegorical qualities, and it seems that TOKYO SONATA is no exception. How much would you say that the family depicted in the film represents Japan itself?

In this project, I’ve tried to delineate the tiny drama of people you can find anywhere in contemporary Tokyo just as it is—with as little exaggeration as possible. This does not mean that the people portrayed here are entirely isolated from the world at large. Whether they notice it or not, these people are constantly influenced by the greater forces of the exterior world, and they continue to be tossed around by the impacts. The small family in the film is directly connected to Japan, and Japan is connected directly to the world. Is it better to desperately protect something that exists inside? Or, is it better to release everything into the exterior? So many Japanese people are faced with these two choices on a daily basis, and they live the 21st century in confusion. Of course, I am one of these people as well.

Your longtime collaborator Koji Yakusho takes an unusual role this time as a manic-depressive burglar. How did this role evolve, especially in regard to Yakusho’s involvement?

Koji Yakusho always plays a variation of the outlaw in my films. In this film, there are no characters displaying any outlaw qualities among the four members of the family.

But because I felt it necessary for this family to experience a complete destruction in the latter half of the story, I needed an outlaw that bursts in from the outside world all of a sudden. And that character had naturally fit the image of Yakusho. I couldn’t think of anybody else for this part. I feel so blessed that he agreed to take on this small role with such enthusiasm. Moreover, this time what I had him play was the weakest outlaw ever to appear in any of my films. I think this thief is more timid than Ryuhei Sasaki or even his son, Kenji.

In the original script by Max Mannix, the story mostly concentrated on the father and the youngest son. However, in your adaptation, you have significantly boosted the role of the wife/mother, so much so that in some ways she is the emotional arch of the story. Why did you decide to give her a more prominent role?

I thought I would make this film about the most typical family of four in contemporary Japan. So, of course it was impossible not to flesh out the character of the mother. She is the only character confined to the small world within the walls of her house, and she alone does not experience the obvious conflict with the exterior world that all the others characters go through. Yet because of that, she became the most direct symbol of the family. That is why it can be said that her destruction is the destruction of the family, and her revival is the revival of the family.

The role of the older son, albeit the briefest in the story, is also the most politically charged. Was it a deliberate comment on Japan’s own relation with America, as well as its own foreign policy?

Rather than a deliberate comment of mine, it can be seen as a glaring depiction of Japan today. If it was possible for Japanese citizens to easily enlist in the American army like in this film, I suspect that a lot of young Japanese people will do so. It’s not so much that they like war; they will probably consider war as an option in order to break down this closed-up feeling that permeates throughout Japan. Japan is a country that half-heartedly forbids engaging in war, but young people today instinctively know that things need to change. I fear for our current situation from the bottom of my heart. But just like the father figure in this film, I have no clue what I would possibly say to such young people to keep them from going to war.

TOKYO SONATA opens at select theatres on Friday, March 27th

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