There is no question that “Tokyo Lullaby” will act as a soporific for most audiences. The slice-of-life yarn — set in a tightly knit Tokyo suburb — is simply too languid and slow to generate a drama of interest. Apart from the odd fest exposure, the picture will have to rely on success at home.
Tale opens with the return of Koichi Hamanaka (Kyozo Nagatsuka), who had mysteriously disappeared several years earlier, abandoning friends and family. Asakura (Takaya Kamikawa), a journalist who has befriended Hisako (Mitsuko Baisho), Hamanaka’s wife, tries to piece together the missing years but gets little help in his investigation from his taciturn subject, who says he’s returned to repay personal and professional debts. Eventually we learn that a relationship with another local, Tami (Kaori Momoi), was the cause of his departure.
The plot is promising, but filmmaker Juni Ichikawa seems hesitant to expose any drama. He centers most of the action on Tami’s tearoom, where the residents play Go, and constantly diffuses the core story with asides and vignettes, returning to the main thread almost as an afterthought. There is virtually no cohesion among the myriad subplots, and one simply gives up on trying to discern intent.
While it’s an unquestionably polished production, the performances are so low-key they almost evaporate from the screen. “Tokyo Lullaby” is outwardly soothing but reveals a smugness in its daunting narrative that jangles the nerves and defeats one’s patience.