After the excitement of the opening ceremony, I managed to see three movies and attend a couple of press conferences during my action-packed weekend. Of the three movies, two eventually won festival awards – ‘The Woodsman and the Rain’ and ‘Intouchables’. Together with ‘Looking for a True Fiancee’ all three will be out in cinemas in 2012. Here’s what I thought of them;-
Winner of the Tokyo Sakura Grand Prix Award
Starring – FranÃ§ois Cluzet, Omar Sy
Directed by Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano
A very enjoyable French film which managed moments of genuine poignancy with an extremely believable and equally unlikely friendship between a crippled French millionaire and a French-Senegalese ex-con, who he unexpectedly employs as his carer.
Now I have to admit there were moments in this movie that had my eyes rolling skyward in discomfort and dismay. This film is not without its stereotypes and there were moments when I thought I was watching a French mix of Driving Miss Daisy and Trading Places. Particularly in a scene where Driss (Omar Sy) is strutting his funky stuff in a dancing sequence which you have seen in a million other fish-out-of-water movies. Oh, didn’t you know? All black people can dance. Sigh.
Where the film succeeds is in the depiction of the friendship between the two characters. It is warm, funny and 100% believable and the two performances are remarkable. It’s based on a true story and on the whole it does its subject matter an excellent service. Awkward moments aside, it did have me and the Japanese audience laughing out loud and I for one left the cinema with a positive outlook on humanity. Portrayals of great friendships, when acted this superbly, are a joy to watch.
The Woodsman and the Rain
Special Jury Prize Winner
Starring Koji Yakusho, Shun Oguri
Directed by Shuichi Okita
A story set in rural Gifu, where a community of loggers is invaded by a film crew, bizarrely intent on shooting a B-movie about zombies. An awkward partnership develops between the movie’s inexperienced, inept director and a local woodsman who is hired as a location scout.
This film received a lot of attention at the festival, which was for the large part deserved, as it was the only Japanese movie to be entered into the TIFF competition. It’s a multi-layered and deceptively complicated piece with a fine performance from Koji Yakusho, who subtly depicts the deep pangs of single-fatherhood and an estranged relationship with his son, with a depth of feeling that ventures way beyond the confines of the script. Perhaps a little less convincing is Shun Oguri, whose portrayal of the bumbling, incompetent director feels more like a caricature than a detailed character study.
At times the film appears loose and ad-libbed and this mostly works in its favour but not always. At the midway point, when the zombie movie begins shooting, it loses the intrigue of the first half, and sags with the introduction of superfluous characters and a loss of focus. I remember glancing at my watch a couple of times at this stage. It picks up again as both film and film within a film reach their respective conclusion and the emotional journey between the two protagonists comes to a natural stopping point.
Despite its pacing problems, The Woodsman and the Rain presents a fascinating juxtaposition of the mundane life of rural, Japanese, blue-colour workers against the exciting, stressful and rather abstract process of modern film-making. But it is probably half an hour too long.
Looking For A True Fiancee
Starring Takayuki Yamada, Fumi Nikaido
Directed by Yuki Iwata
Hmmm, man loses his memory, awakes to find an engagement ring in his pocket. Nothing wrong with that right? Happens to men all the time doesn’t it? No? Well anyway, he must ascertain which one of his three girl-friends he was going to propose to. He spends the next 2 hours investigating and sleeping with this trio of peculiar and inherently flawed women, who are all somehow in love with him.
The film has a slow pace and a surreal, dreamlike quality that distances the audience and prevented me from sympathizing with any of its main characters. Perhaps this is a deliberate device employed by the director, ensuring that we don’t get too close to the “love rat” or the women in his life, who, with the exception of ‘Emi’ (played by Nikaido) are all portrayed somewhat as losers.
Although there are funny moments and a clever mind-bending twist near the end, involving the extremely pretty but just a bit too young looking Fumi Nikaido, watching Looking For A True Fiancee was a rather sterile experience. This could be viewed as an intentional reflection of relationships in modern Japanese society, in which case it is a strange but interesting social commentary, though not one I’d care to see twice.