Two abandoned men (one by his parents, the other by his bride) embark on an unexpected journey and mange to discover themselves only to go their separate ways after a last supper of curry.
As bizarre as that premise appears to be in print, when Yoshinaga Fujita’s novel is lovingly translated to the screen by Satoshi Miki, this road-movie-on-sidewalks morphs into a deeply personal (and frequently hilarious) take on the human condition.
Joe Odagiri excels in the role of orphaned, in debt, no prospects Fumiya. He has just three days to raise ¥840,000 or face the further physical wrath of debt collector Fukuhara (Tomokazu Miura who uses just the right amount of power and mystery to give the most unlikely tale a real sense of believability). Symbolically, the cash-from-crime thug holds his client’s identity cards hostage to quash any attempt of flight.
Just as time is about to run out, the chain-smoking Fumiya has a vision and promise of good luck if noted action-flick icon Ittoku Kishibe (playing himself) is seen in person. Before you can say “plot point,” Fukuhara forgives the current loan and offers the bewildered young man ¥1,000,000 if he agrees to wander the streets of Tokyo until his sudden saviour is ready to turn himself in for the murder of his faithless wife.
From that point forward the film is a marvellous quilt of scenes staged on the streets, parks and, notably the zoo (the sequence with the pygmy hippopotamus is especially fine) of Japan’s largest city. Fukuhara retraces his steps which, in happier times, he took with his wayward wife. The stops include stop a shrine, a make-up-with-favourite-dessert-after-fighting café and then the loneliest bus ride in the world.
Before long, Fumiya is also sharing his past: the vacant lot where his family home used to stand (a predictable but symbolic outcome); young love on a budget that features a humiliating designer knock-off gift; flirting then preparing to sleep with a married woman only to be dumped, paid cash like a rent boy yet—wearing just a flimsy white towel that doesn’t survive peering beneath the bed—unable to run after the fickle woman and give back the “fee.”
The various strands of plot (including a campy trio of the dearly departed’s co-workers and a long-lost artist who fills her current canvas with a warship under attack) are further reinforced thanks to a selection of music that is as varied as the individuals being scrutinized. Magically, the pièce de résistance comes in the form of Maurice Ravel’s haunting Pavane pour une Enfant défunte. Its first appearance reveals the tough-guy-turned redeemer as a serious lover of classical music, even as his spontaneous conducting of the unseen pianist leads to a hit-and-run of a bell-ringing senior citizen cyclist (she’s hit but chooses to run!). The encore, played behind this production’s most moving sequence, is set far above the chattering crowd on a rollercoaster. That notion, too, seems odd, but on the big screen Miki crafts an emotional knockout that is the fitting conclusion to the impressionist’s fabled music.
Near journey’s end, Fumiya has been adopted by his now “old man’s” fake family (all the better to fill the pews at weddings ...). Kyoko Koizumi plays the perpetually tardy mom with bubble and flair, while her mayonnaise-addicted niece, Fufumi (done up with pizzazz by Yuriko Yoshitaka) effectively contrasts the serious side of her instant relative’s dilemma.
For some, the pace and lack of black-and-white resolution may prove too slow or unfulfilling, for the rest it’s an important discussion of how life surprisingly unfolds. JWR