Rating: 3.5 out of 5
"I once had a girl, or should I say she once had me?" So begins the eponymous Beatles song, which echoes literally and thematically through this delicately offbeat Japanese drama by Vietnamese filmmaker Tran.
Watanabe (Matsuyama) is a 19-year-old shaken to the core when his best pal (Kora) commits suicide. While comforting his grief-stricken girlfriend Naoko (Kikuchi), Watanabe begins to fall for her, but their mutual attraction only makes her depression worse so she flees to a healing retreat in the woods.
Watanabe's womanising pal Nagasawa (Tamayama) advises him to find another girl, but when he meets Midori (Mizuhara) the relationship is equally complicated.
Love seems just out of reach for him; maybe it doesn't really exist.
Based on the Haruki Murakami novel, the film has a tentative tone that makes it both deeply involving and oddly alienating. As a result, the story is more interesting than moving, even though there are huge emotional scenes along the way. And the brittle, sometimes stony performances by the cast don't make it easier to engage with the characters, even though we recognise their youthful yearnings.
Perhaps this is due to the subdued themes swirling around in the story. Suicide seems to follow Watanabe around, and yet he finds living slightly less terrifying than death. So he forges on. This is a young guy who hasn't figured out how things work, and yet he refuses to give up on a distant, idealised image of romance. And the fact that it's set in the late 1960s must mean something, although those unfamiliar with Japanese culture may find it hard to catch what that is.
By contrast to the rather icy story, Tran's visual sensibilities are lush and often breathtakingly beautiful. Every scene is shot with a fluid, panoramic attention to detail, capturing the settings in vivid, often unexpected ways.
And the sense of the characters within these spaces - from grassy wetlands to urban blight - is extremely powerful. But this is a story about relationships, specifically the elusiveness of finding someone we can fully connect with. Its gorgeous imagery lends weight to the literary story, although it's a shame we don't feel the characters' pain along with them.
Facts and Figures
Run time: 133 mins
In Theaters: Saturday 11th December 2010
Box Office USA: $13.0k
Box Office Worldwide: $17.6M
Distributed by: Independent Pictures
Production compaines: Asmik Ace Entertainment, Fuji Television Network, Dentsu, Sankei Shimbun, Sumitomo Corporation, WoWow, Kodansha
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 74%
Fresh: 45 Rotten: 16
IMDB: 6.4 / 10
Cast & Crew
Director: Anh Hung Tran
Producer: Anh Hung Tran
Screenwriter: Shinji Ogawa
Starring: Rinko Kikuchi as Naoko, Kiko Mizuhara as Midori, Reika Kirishima as Reiko Ishida, Eriko Hatsune as Hatsumi, Ken'ichi Matsuyama as Toru Watanabe, Tetsuji Tamayama as Nagasawa, Tokio Emoto as Storm Trooper, Kengo Kora as Kizuki, Takao Handa as Midori's Father
Also starring: Anh Hung Tran