Movie Review: Death of a Japanese Salesman

I watched this film during DIFF last year, but only got around to writing the review now. What can I say, I’m a busy girl…


This film is the directorial debut of Mami Sunada,  and is a documentary about her dad’s life- who was diagnosed with cancer- up until he died. I really should have gone more prepared, because by the end of the screening my face was a mess- tears streaming down my face, puffy eyes, mascara everywhere. If you thought Braveheart and The Notebook were bad, think again. They really should mention this sort of stuff on the ticket…


Mami told the story through footage of her dad- Tomoaki Sunada- every step of the way, from the day he was diagnosed right up until the funeral, with her voice narrating his possible thoughts in that point in time. It  took a little while to get used to that, but I found it to be an interesting approach. I also admire her strength in being able to go through with the project, as I can only imagine how hard it could have been; it’s a wonderful way to celebrate someone’s life and preserve their memory.

Her father was a man who worked his way up the company ladder (the same company) up until retirement, only to discover shortly after that he has cancer. He decided not to let it get him down though, and continued to spend time with his family and doing things he enjoys.

It was also an interesting glimpse into the Japanese way of life: the incredible dedication and loyalty towards the company they work for, family dynamics, and what they do for fun. The family dynamics caught my attention. For example, Mr. Sunada and his wife were pretty much separated until he retired from work (it took a toll on their marriage), after which they started dating again…only to find out he had cancer shortly after. That was heartbreaking to watch, and it’s just another reminder that time is precious. Don’t wait until you’re old to do the stuff you love or spend time with people who matter to you. On the other hand, I found it amusing how his children had so much respect for him and their mum, and were there for them no matter what, yet their approach was very pragmatic and logical.

Another thing I found interesting was the way they talked to the doctor. They’re so polite, and proper, and constructive in their conversation, and they have full faith in the doctor’s skills and abilities. No drama, no panic- nothing. I expected *something*, but nope; the whole time they were just polite and proper and constructive. Maybe I’ve been watching too much of The Big C…

The most bizarre thing to me was how her dad planned his funeral. He made a list of people who should attend, what his family should say to those who want to be there but aren’t allowed (his co-workers aren’t invited because it’s only for family and close friends…!!!), where it should take place, the proceedings, and so on. The funniest thing was during his last days he asked his son to retreive the list from his computer, but when the son returned he told Mr. Sunada that the list is no longer on the computer, and the dad responded ‘oh it’s ok, I made a back-up!’. He just really thought of everything, didn’t he?!

But it felt like he was planning a birthday party, not a funeral. I found it quite strange as our funerals aren’t anything like that- you wear black for 3 days, people show up to your house to give condolences (friend or foe- it’s the time to put those differences aside at a time like this), and you have arabic coffee available.

The last moments before he parted with this world were very emotional…waterworks.

There are just so many angles to this film that it really is worth seeing. I look forward to seeing more of her work in the future.



Rating: I highly recommend this film, but make sure you have a box of tissues next to you. I give it 4 Oi’s out of 5.


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