23 October 2005 | Gigo_Satana
A road less traveled
No matter how much other Asian countries have grown in cinematic popularity in the last 5 years, I'll never grow tired of finding hidden gems inside the vast pool of Japanese cinema. This happens to be one of those films that achieved minimal reviews overseas (so far), knowing the history of the director it isn't that surprising, but does this film has what it takes to make greater strides?
The script was written by Aki Kajiwara and Miho Miyazawa who both starred in Nakahara's well regarded Cherry Orchard. Story here deals with a female manga artist Ichigo Nekoda (Miyazawa), whose career is heading into a downward spiral as she can't reinvent the success of her 12 year old hit the Cherry Road. Now in her early 30's she's become quite fond of alcohol and egoism to some annoyance of her loyal manager Tomoko (Kajiwara), who isn't willing to leave her side even though the financial strains of her client are also becoming her personal burdens.
Ichigo still gets greeted by her female fans and willingly signs autographs, but getting praised for work that she's done over a decade ago doesn't digest as smoothly as one would assume. Her on and off man, who happens to also be her editor steers toward the off days more than usual as he also grows tired of Ichigo's uninspired ways. But when the going gets tough, Ichigo heads down to a transvestite bar where she's more than welcomed with words of wisdom and a few hard drinks.
All this is presented in a naturalistic, semi-comical manner, without over reaching for Ichigo's melancholic loose ends or creating cartoon-ish settings. She seems disconnected from today's world, but somehow still lost in the world she created in her book. The story there ended with a scene of a man leaving two women behind, cut to a spinning wheel of a fallen motorcycle without the man in sight.
The movie plays and feels like a classic novel within a novel piece about a playwright with a touch of suspense and even hints of possible fantasy thrown in for a good measure, especially after Ichigo experiences a little accident of her own. The pacing of the film could be a nuisance to some, while not as patience demanding and poetically unfolding as Hsiao-hsien Hou's movies, story should still provide captivation for those wondering what exactly Ichigo has haunting her from the past, how much has she burrowed and scripted from her life into this story and why can't she move on and start writing with passion once again.
I don't know if this film has what it takes to finally place Nakahara on the honors list of the fellow, internationally renowned directors he broke out with in the 90's, but as far as humanistic directors and minimalist storytelling methods go, Nakahara has much resilience. Although the story could have gone any which way from the time of Ichigo's vehicular clash to her struggle with self-realization, the film chose to provide a harmless, unwinding closure. I did wish that the script had offered more insight on Ichigo's past with her one true love and why it made her hold on to the memories so fanatically aside from feeling guilty somehow. The overall enjoyment of this film is vastly depended on your personal stance on low tempo films that don't have a crafty ending nor the heavy sentimentality textures of some winning dramas. The film will either reassure your dislike of these types of films or somehow manage to leave you with a pleasant afterthought.