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Recession, Depression and Just Plain Depressing

Recession, Depression and Just Plain Depressing (photo)

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After a couple of months that for all intents and purposes defined “moribund,” actual moviegoing, at least in the major cities, is getting interesting again, with several masterworks or near-masterworks creeping into theaters. Jan Troell’s scrupulous, beautiful “Everlasting Moments,” Olivier Assayas’ genuinely Renoir-esque “Summer Hours” and Philippe Garrel’s blunt, idiosyncratic “Frontier of Dawn” are all exceptionally exciting and rewarding pictures, and the fact that they’re all being distributed by the sister company of the one that’s hosting me as a critic this month looks…well, funny, I know. What can I tell you? IFC Entertainment’s acquisitions folks have excellent taste, and they’re into…acquiring.

Still in all, I’m slightly relieved, if only for the sake of appearances, that the latest wonderment from Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, “Tokyo Sonata,” premieres on U.S. screens this week courtesy of Regent Releasing. Kurosawa, who, as most of his fans already know, is no relation to Akira, is a master purveyor of artful horror films and/or surrealism-tinged tales of modern urban anomie (or is it the other way around?), or more to the point some combination of both. “Tokyo Sonata,” from a script by Max Mannix that was widely revised (particularly, if we go by interviews with the artistes, in the last third) by the director, has no overt supernatural elements. But still. The Tokyo park where the homeless and unemployed line up every day for free food has the look and feel of a setting from the finale of Kurosawa’s terrifyingly apocalyptic 2001 stunner “Pulse,” only minus the unmanned plane flying into a building. “Sonata”‘s adult male lead, Teruyuki Kagawa, has a peculiarly round face, with puffy skin and doll-like eyes; the eerier blandness of his features brings to mind those of countless somnambulistic killers in ’60s B pictures, beginning with Ricardo Valle’s Morpho in Jess Franco’s “The Awful Dr. Orloff.” His unsettling appearance makes the passivity his character Ryuhei Sasaki displays as he’s summarily dismissed from his job more unsettling than it would have been had a more conventional-looking actor been playing him. And it makes Ryûhei’s always ill-advised breakouts from passivity more terrifying.

These and other off-kilter touches — putting the Sasaki family house literally right next to a rail line, for instance — could have severely impinged upon the balance of the film, spinning it off into overtly Lynchian territory. But Kurosawa is his own man, and his particular mix of melancholy, anxiety, bone-dry humor, and, finally, grace, is a unique quantity in cinema.

After getting downsized due to lack of initiative, Ryuhei slinks home early and tries to sneak in via the back door, only to run into wife Megumi (Kyoko Koizumi), who responds with a quizzical shrug. Oldest Sasaki son Takashi (Yu Koyanagi) is a listless mophead who comes and goes throughout the film like a ghost. “Sonata” is more concerned with Ryuhei’s subterfuge, and younger son Kenji’s impulsive decision to start piano lessons, a course he carries out in secret.

03112009_tokyoSonata2.jpgMore than just a study of a dysfunctional family, “Sonata” also functions as a ruthless critique of the patriarchy, pretty much announcing it as the very heart of the dysfunction. Hypocrisy rules, sometimes with awful hilarity. “I raised you to have a happy life,” Ryuhei protests when Takeshi announces his intention to join the military. After discovering Kenji’s new enthusiasm — which, you know, makes the kid happy — Ryuhei expressly forbids his taking lessons; when Megumi gets Ryuhei to see reason, he lamely notes, “Once I’ve said no I can’t take it back. It affects my authority as a parent.” This provides an opening for Megumi to play her trump — she’s seen Ryuhei in that park.

Just as a sort of détente is in sight — maybe — the family is shattered again, courtesy, at least in part, of Koji Yakusho, a Kurosawa stalwart, whose character’s failed robbery of the Sasaki house leads to a hostage situation and one of the more peculiar “they made me a criminal” monologues in recent memory. But citing these plots points is, finally, rather beside the point, the point being the spell Kurosawa (aided mightily by cinematographer Akiko Ashizawa) casts, putting the viewer in a world that’s recognizable but not quite our own, and illuminating the one that is in the process.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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