Kiyoshi Kurosawa, director and cowriter of Tokyo Sonata (2008), is likely best known stateside for his contributions to the J-Horror genre (like 2000's Pulse). But the scruffily low-key director is the first to admit, with assistance from translator Taro Goto, that his kindred Nipponese overlords of the urban-chills are generally regarded in their homeland as "eccentrics." It's peculiar, he observes wryly, "that [J-Horror directors] are seen as the representatives of Japanese cinema around the world!"
Yet one suspects Kurosawa relishes his outsider label. Following the trajectory of Hollywood craftsmen like Sam Fuller, he has worked within genre to reach for a more acutely poetic, fantasist's reality. It has allowed him to pursue lines of inquiry that extend beyond commercial concerns and strictly scary story arcs, though his association with J-Horror has somewhat obscured a continuing fascination with capturing a rapidly changing Japan. The tenderly isolated parents and children of Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story (1953) would recognize with shock the disintegrating recession-era family in Tokyo Sonata, but the horror here stems from the unspoken context of a country where once-ironclad norms concerning patriarchal power and filial piety are melting along with the boundaries between the virtual-spiritual-fantastic and the physical-mundane-realistic.
When Tokyo Sonata's lost, laid-off salaryman Ryuhei Sasaki (Teruyuki Kagawa) goes through the motions of leaving for an imagined office, he's like a ghost deprived of his machine. Intriguingly, Kurosawa empathizes: "I'm in a rather unstable position myself, as a filmmaker, so it's possible I'm projecting some of my own experiences onto my characters. But I don't see it as a completely negative aspect of my life. I think it gives me the chance to potentially achieve freedom from certain elements of society, morals, laws, interpersonal relationships, and those things that do tend to constrict us in life." (Kimberly Chun)
TOKYO SONATA opens Fri/27 in Bay Area theaters.