This story about a small middle-class Japanese family whose father is laid off from his job and hides it from his wife and sons may bring to mind the similar (and excellent) French drama Time Out. And just as Time Out felt like a thriller, Tokyo Sonata at times plays out more like an end of the world movie than a mere domestic tale.
That isn't a big surprise, given the director: though Kurosawa has helmed fairly straightforward dramas before (I enjoyed the little-seen License to Live), he's better known for his relentlessly creepy horror-ish features, including Pulse and Cure. But as the G-rated The Straight Story was still very much a David Lynch film, so too is Tokyo Sonata entirely Kiyoshi Kurosawa, in terms of its pace, sense of dread, moody lighting and eerie minimalism.
The film takes a wild left turn in the third act, with the introduction of well-known Japanese actor (and Kurosawa regular) Koji Yakusho, but if you can make it through that, you'll be rewarded with one of the most graceful, moving finales you'll see in years.
Tokyo Sonata isn't perfect: it's got a handful of pretentious moments, and that crazy third act will put off as many people as it intrigues. But its got a strong cast and solid direction, and serves as a poignant reminder that the United States isn't the only country suffering through tough economic times right now.