With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Friday, March 09, 2012


Tomoaki Sunada with his two granddaughters
Death of a Japanese Salesman
Directed by Mami Sunada
Japan 2011, 90 minutes
When: Saturday, March 10, 2012 at 3:00 PM
Where: Asia Society
725 Park Avenue, NY, NY
Between East 70th and 71st Streets
Tickets here

Asia Society's film series Extreme Private Ethos: Japanese Documentaries will begin tomorrow, Saturday, March 10th, with this compelling film that focuses on the final months of the filmmaker's father, Tomoaki Sunada, a retired salesman.

Tomoaki held by his mother Misako

Tomoaki and his wife Junco married in 1968. A year later they had a daughter, Nami, and the year after that a son, Tomohiro. Although they did not intend to have more children, through an "error" on their part, they had another daughter, Mami, the filmmaker. With his two older children married, Tomoaki has worries about Mami since she is over 30, still unmarried, and seems  to be doing nothing but taping him with her HD video camera.

On a train platform with Junco

Tomoaki worked for a private chemical company for over 40 years, finally retiring at age 67, at which point he was a member of the company's board. In May of 2010, around two years after he retired, a routine check-up revealed that he had Stage 4 abdominal cancer, a condition with a grim prognosis. Supplementing her own footage with old family photographs and films, and with voice overs in which she speaks as her father, Mami records the path of her father's final months as he methodically takes care of preparations for his own funeral and does certain things that are important to him. These include going on a final family trip that includes his 94 year old mother, Misako, and enjoying delicious abalone steak one final time.

Tomoaki, his wife Junco, his daughter-in-law and the three granddaughters

Of course, spending time with his family, especially his grandchildren, matters greatly to Tomoaki. When he became sick, his son and daughter-in-law, who live in America because of his son's job, had two daughters. The four of them managed to visit Japan during the summer after Tomoaki became ill. But a third granddaughter was born in the fall. As Tomoaki's disease continues to progress, his doctor remarks that the real mystery is how he manages to do so well. One feels certain that part of his endurance is due to his desire to see her before he dies.

The filmmaker baptizes her father, who converted to Catholicism for personal, not religious, reasons

Death of a Japanese Salesman, which was produced by renowned director Hirokazu Kore-eda (Still Walking, Air Doll), was named 1 of 10 Best Japanese Films of 2011 by The Japan Times, an accolade it would most certainly deserve no matter the year. Director Mami Sunada has produced a film that is touching and heartbreaking. She has made an intensely personal and intimate family tragedy something with which anyone with a heart and true feelings can relate. Death of a Japanese Salesman is a film that truly should be seen by all. Just be prepared for things to "get a bit misty" while watching it.

ACF Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars; very highly recommended.

Death of a Japanese Salesman is Mami Sunada's directorial debut. For an interview with her, click here.

For a trailer of the film at YouTube (no English subtitles), click here.

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