28 February 2005 | frankgaipa
To Reach a High Shelf
Natsu up there in the original title = summer, while ijin probably means foreigner in the sense not at all of Westerner, but rather of outsider. Depending on the kanji, there might be a hint also, though it would have to be sarcastic and I'm not sure exactly who about, of mastermind, great man. I'm thinking of Harada's parents or himself as the target, but don't know whether that kind of pun/allusion goes in the language. I sincerely hope ijin isn't used for "zombies" as in the secondary English title here, but even if it is, there must be at least hints of other meanings.
So, here's a film nearly as awkward as the unfortunate English translations of its title. It has three supremely interesting characters, none of them the bland protagonist.
Yuko Natori's Kei, Harada's only nighttime neighbor in a large building of mostly offices, bursts through his door one night, clearly vulnerable, alone, feeling the emptiness of the building, perhaps suffering from drink but clearly damaged somehow beyond that. Though barely a sketch, and a bit older, she suggests the legion of slightly off young women who hound Haruki Murakami's protagonists. When dull Harada gently slams the door in her face, viewers can't help but feel a loss. Later of course, there's the quirk about her front: no face to face love-making. The mystery wrought by her ever-present clothing, in combination with her aggressiveness, creates a fine-toned sensuality.
Hardly less sensual is Fusako, Harada's mother. Introduced after Kei, perhaps as lonely as Kei but in a different sense, roughly the same age as Harada and Kei, her aggressive doting on her son startles at first. She seems a counterpoint, a reflection, even a rival of Kei. I think early on, sweltering in the heat of the title's summertime, she was wearing just a slip. At one point she climbs onto Harada's back to reach a high shelf and falls into his arms. This moment takes a brief eternity to pass.
The third finely turned character is Harada's father, Hidekichi. Somehow -- and no doubt the lighting, ambient sound, and cramped yet expansive bustling street set help -- he embodies an innocence that the film's creators have chosen to give to his times. Bare-armed, swaggering, lethargically energetic, oozing a hospitality that's actually quite cunning but appears naive, he could be any child's workingman father or any "Postman Rings Twice" film's husband. Even though there's little or nothing of the cliché cuckold plot here, without him the two fleetingly sublime women characters wouldn't resonate as they do.