Archive for April 2010
The beautiful and moving performance of legendary actor Tatsuya Nakadai alone makes Haru to no Tabi worth the price of admission. The tics, the roving and always spot-on glances, the heavy and difficult walk of an unreconciled old man push this touching road movie to sublime moments and heartfelt reflection on being old in an unforgiving contemporary Japan. Haru to no Tabi opens with an angry Tadao (Nakadai) storming out of his beachfront shack in Hokkaido, his frightened granddaughter, Haru (Eri Tokunaga) following. Their uneasy relationship softens and grows as they go south, visiting his various brothers and sisters and ultimately, Haru’s father, who had long abandoned her. Director Masahiro Kobayashi slowly lays out the subtle dynamics of family relationships and develops a critique of how the social forces of contemporary Japan influence them. More consciously commercial that Kobayashi’s earlier films, Haru to no Tabi, makes no concession to the marketplace other than the casting of some of the greatest actors to inhabit Japanese cinema, Teruyuki Kagawa (Tokyo Sonata) and Kin Sugai (The Funeral) among them.
Originally published in EL Magazine, May 2010
Yukai Rhapsody opens with Date Hideyoshi (Katsunori Takahashi) at wits end – no money and no future. His feeble and supposedly humorous attempts at suicide leave the viewer pretty cautious as to how the film will play out. However, with the introduction of little Densuke (the impossibly cute Ryui Hayashi) Yukai Rhapsody takes off. Finding out that Densuke is the son of a rich businessman, Date jumps into an improbable kidnapping plan. The main problem though, is that Densuke’s father is a local yakuza heavy who has an army of tough guys to deal with the problem. Part buddy movie, part slapstick chase caper, there are a few too many subplots and some ham- handed direction by Hideo Sakaki, to make Yukai Rhapsody more than a diversion. But Sakaki, better known for his acting, at least knows how to bring out the best in his actors. As Date becomes the fun “ojichan” who buys convenience store ramen and toys for Densuke as they lead their pursuers on a circular chase, their chemistry and rapport becomes touching.
A formulaic little-guy-does-well-against-odds eco dramedy, Teidakankan redeems its hokiness with a fine ensemble cast, headed by Takashi Okamura, well known as the boke role of the popular manzai team, Ninety-Nine. Okamura plays Kenta who goes through an unexceptional, though simply fulfilling life in a small Okinawan beach town. He becomes impassioned with re-seeding the dying coral reefs. After setting up a shop where he and his friends do their homemade experiments, Kenta is soon caught up in local and national celebrity. As his cause grows, he finds himself ridiculed by scientists, caught up in a small media circus and ultimately losing his direction. Of course, as these things go, with a little bit of wifely love and good talking to, friends and community rescuing the day like the cavalry would in a classic western and a slightly overblown finale where the impassive coral finally do their reproductive thing, a happy ending is a must. Director Toshio Lee (Detroit Metal City) cinematic trifle hints at the issues around the destruction of ocean environments but largely keeps it light.
Originally published in EL Magazine, April 2010