An ordinary Japanese family slowly disintegrates after its patriarch loses his job at a prominent company.
The movie opens in a well-cared-for home in Tôkyô. A door is open, and the wind and rain are blowing inside. Megumi Sasaki quickly shuts the door and wipes up the wet floor. She then reopens the door, staring at the oncoming storm.We cut to her husband, Ryûhei Sasaki, at work, being informed that he is being downsized from his administrative job at a large medical-equipment company. He packs up his things and heads out the door, resting at a downtown park bench. He overhears two out-of-work men talking about the importance of going to an employment agency or else they'll be stuck there for months. He rushes over to the agency and bypasses everyone in the very long line only to find out that it is closed for the day. He heads home but tosses his bags in a dumpster before running in to his son, Kenji. He helps Kenji with his backpack as they make it home, a small dwelling located right beside train tracks. Kenji enters through the front door. However, Ryûhei goes around to the back and sneaks in a window. Megumi is surprised to see him, asks why he came in the back, and he says he was just checking the locks.The next morning, its business as usual, and Megumi fixes breakfast for the family. Kenji leaves for school and Ryûhei leaves for work; Megumi tends to all his needs as he leaves, locking the door behind him. Ryûhei joins the parade of businessmen, all heading to work. Their older son, Takashi, is dropped off by his motorcycle buddy, tells his mom he's tired, and heads upstairs to bed.We then cut to Kenji at school, and his instructor, Bayashi, is teaching his 6th-grade class about respectful speech. The classmates are secretly passing around a thick magazine-comic of some sort, and when it reaches Kenji, the teacher spots him and has him get up and stand in the back of the class. Kenji responds by telling the teacher (and the entire class) that he saw the teacher reading a porn magazine on the bus the other day. The class starts laughing at the teacher and is claiming that Kenji is amazing and really has balls. They start chanting the teacher's name but are now calling him Ero-Bayashi. After class, Kenji meets up with Bayashi and apologizes, saying he didn't realize the kids would react that way. They decide to forget it and ignore each other.On his way home Kenji passes a house and notices a piano lesson taking place inside. He stares and watches until the teacher notices him and he then continues walking.Back at the employment agency, Ryûhei is upset that the only jobs he is being offered are far below what he had or wants. Dejected, he heads home, running into Kenji at the same spot. This time they both keep to themselves and continue walking. Once home, Ryûhei gives Megumi an envelope with the current month's salary. She is banging on their stove and complains about it but then decides that they'll just get a new one with Ryûhei's next bonus. With Takashi out working, the three of them have a nice dinner with trains rattling in the background. Kenji informs the family that he wants to learn the piano, but Ryuhei says no. The next morning, Takashi arrives home from work and his mom shows him a new drivers' license she just got.We cut to a homeless soup kitchen of some sort, and Ryûhei is there waiting for a meal. He runs into an old school friend named Kurosu, who appears to be a successful businessman. Their conversation is cut short so that Kurosu can answer a phone call and take care of some business. Kurosu sees the long line of people and asks Ryûhei what the line is for. When he finds out it is for a free meal, he decides to take advantage of the opportunity. After a little discussion, they both realize that they are both out of work. Kurosu has been unemployed for months and is really good at hiding the fact. He even has his phone programmed to ring five times an hour, just so he can feel and look important. He gives Ryûhei a few pointers on how to survive for a while without being caught.We cut back to Kenji's classroom, and the instructor has now lost all control. His classmates call it a revolution and wonder why Kenji isn't happy with it. On his way home, Kenji finds an old electronic keyboard in the garbage. He cant get it to work but pretends to play, anyway. That night they all have another nice meal that Megumi prepared, with everyone showing respect for their father. After dinner that night Kenji's mom gives him an envelope for the next month's lunch money. The next day he uses the money to pay for piano lessons and he begins right on the spot. The next day while waiting in line at the employment center, Kurosu tells Ryûhei that he thinks his wife may be on to him and asks Ryûhei to have dinner with them; Ryuhei agrees. During dinner, Kurosu's wife questions Ryuhei about their work. Kurosu leaves to answer a call, and his wife asks Ryuhei to look after her husband; he agrees. While cleaning up after dinner, Kurosu's daughter asks Ryûhei if he has it rough–as if she knows the truth.Ryuhei comes home and Megumi is asleep on the couch. She offers to make him dinner, but he says he already ate and heads upstairs to bed. After he leaves, she raises her hands and asks for help up, saying, "Somebody, please pull me up," as if to pull her out of this life.The next day, Ryûhei has a job interview but fails miserably. He cant offer a single reason why he would be a good employee. He jokes that hes good at Karaoke and they tell him to sing. We cut back to the outside, and he's with Kurosu. Ryûhei is livid about what he just went through, smacking garbage around while Kurosu explains reality to him. Kurosu says that they are on a slowly sinking ship and the lifeboats are gone. Kurosu gets up and joins the crowd walking by and leaves.Cut to Megumi at a new-car store. Shes particularly fond of a red convertible, even though the salesman tells her the mini-van is more suited to families (She really wants out of this life of hers). On her way home, she sees her Ryûhei in the food line. We then see Takashi at his night job, handing out flyers to people on the street-corner. His buddy convinces him to just dump them into the river. Afterward, they sit around wishing a giant earthquake would come and turn their world upside down.The next day during Kenji's piano lesson, we see his instructor on the phone with her lawyer. It seems that she is just finalizing her divorce. She tells Kenji not to worry about her. Kenji says that he understands and knows how she feels. She just laughs.Meanwhile, back at home, Takashi comes up with a plan that will change his life, but he needs approval from his parents. He wants to join an exclusive group of Japanese citizens that will join the US Military in the Middle East. She won't sign and wants his father to sign instead. Takashi says that if she doesn't that he'll find a sponsor to sign for him.Back at the homeless-jobless park, Ryûhei can't find Kuruso. He heads to the man's house and is told that there was a double suicide and that Kuruso killed himself and his wife. While leaving, he sees Kuruso's daughter, but she just looks at him blankly.Ryûhei goes home and is welcomed by Megumi. Megumi and Takashi show Ryuhei the US Army paperwork, but Ryûhei will not sign them; he absolutely forbids his son to join the US Army. Takashi explains that by doing this it will actually help protect Japan and their family. Ryûhei says that he, as the family's patriarch, will protect his family. Takashi says he doesn't want his protection and asks him what he does every day. Ryûhei has no answer, and Megumi just watches quietly. Ryûhei and Megumi stare at each other, wondering what each other knows.At piano class the next day, Kenji's teacher tells him that he is very gifted and should apply to go to music school rather than a normal junior high the next year. He says that there is no way that that would ever happen.At the employment office, Ryûhei finally decides to take a job as a janitor at a large shopping mall. It is humiliating work, cleaning floors and toilets, but he does it anyway.At the bus station, Megumi is seeing Takashi off. He asks her why she doesn't divorce his dad. She tells him that its too complicated and, besides, playing mother isn't really all that bad. As he boards the bus, he salutes her and she leaves.We cut to Kenji's school and his instructor is informing Megumi that he is behind on lunch money, and he checks out early, often. She goes home and sees him playing on his pretend piano. He confesses that he used the money on piano lessons. She tells him that she's not mad at the lessons but rather mad at his deception. She tells him to continue with his lessons.Ryûhei gets home and finds a letter from Kenji's piano teacher asking them to let him apply at the music school. He is furious, and he and Kenji have a huge argument resulting in Kenji being tossed down the stairs. He looks like he might have died as a result of the fall, but after an ambulance takes him to the hospital, it turns out to only be a concussion. While in the waiting room, they watch TV reports about the 138 Japanese helping out the US military and how proud the country is of them.The next day, we see Takashi coming home, shocked at how many people he has killed, only to find out that it is a dream that Megumi is having. She tries to contact the foreign ministry to see if he's safe but they cant help her.
At work the next day after cleaning a toilet, Ryuhei finds an envelope full of money. He hides it in his pocket. Back outside at the mall in which he works, he runs into Megumi. They are both shocked to see each other. Ryûhei runs away in shame.NOW THE MOVIE TAKES A STRANGE TURN.It cuts to three hours earlier, and Megumi is at home in a scene that looks like the opening scene with the back door open. Suddenly, a thief attacks her and ties her up. When he discovers that there is no money for him to steal, he takes off his mask and leaves only to quickly reenter when he hears police sirens. Realizing that he has now shown his face to Megumi, he decides to kidnap her. He takes her outside to the car he has just stolen. It's just like the sports car she liked at the car store, only blue. He wants her to drive and she obeys.During the drive, Megumi learns that the thief was a locksmith who couldn't make it in the workplace. That is why he has resorted to this crime. Megumi Understands. She later convinces him to let her stop to use the bathroom and she stops at the mall. This is when she runs into her husband. In shock, she goes back to the thief, who can't believe she actually came back. He offers to drop her off at a bus station, but she says no, she can't go home. She's come this far, so she'll go on. She puts the top down and they drive off.Its dusk now and they end up on a dead end road by the ocean. Megumi asks the thief if he thinks she can start her life over. She sees land or a boat in the distance, but he can't see anything. They go to an abandoned shack for the night, and the thief tries to have his way with her, but she fights him off. She wonders what it would be like to wake up and start her life over.We cut back to Ryûhei and he has now run from the mall and is running down the street, tripping over garbage along the way. He finally falls into the garbage and wonders how he can start over. He gets up and runs some more, and is hit by a truck and left for dead along the side of the road.Back at the shack, the thief is still upset at his life, and Megumi goes out to look at the stars; she thinks she sees something in the distance. She tries to get the thief to look, but he won't get up. Megumi goes back outside and sits down in the water, staring into the far distance. She lies back and lets the waves fall all around her in an apparent suicide.That same night, Kenji is caught by security guards trying to sneak into the luggage compartment of a bus. He is brought to the police station and won't say a word, so they put him in the adult holding cell for the night. In the morning he is released. Kenji heads back home, but no one is there.We cut back to the shack, and Megumi wakes up and finds that the thief has left with the car. Megumi begins a long walk home. As she begins her walk, the sun shines on just her, maybe a sign that there is brightness to her future? She reaches home and asks Kenji where her father is and he says that he doesn't know. He says he's hungry, and like a good mom, Megumi prepares him a meal.We cut back to the side of the road and see Ryûhei waking up, covered in leaves. He walks over to a lost-and-found box and drops the envelope of money into it. He reaches his house, still in his janitor attire, and sits down with his family and they all share a meal. The news reports on the TV announce that there is a pullback on the US military, and the Japanese troops will be coming home.FOUR MONTHS LATERRyûhei is hard at work at the mall and finally seems content.At home Megumi, reads mail from Takashi that says that he is staying in the Middle East, as the people there need his help to find true happiness.We then cut to the Shiroyama Music School audition. Ryuhei and Megumi take their place in the audience and watch Kenji perform. Kenji is wonderful, almost bringing tears to Ryûhei's eyes. His piano teacher appears and watches, and, slowly, a large crowd begins to gather around the piano. Kenji finishes his marvelous audition and Ryuhei and Megumi join him, and the three of them walk away as the screen fades to black and the credits roll.It looks like with the help of music, this family is going to make it after all.