6 December 2006 | Yojimbo81
Disappointing rendition of an intriguing story
The largest robbery in Japan's history was a decidedly humdrum affair. On December 10th 1968, a police motorbike intercepted a car transporting bonus money to the factories of Toshiba in Fuchu, Tokyo. Convincing the car's occupants that their vehicle had been rigged with explosives, the rider let them scarper and then pinched it, complete with the contents of its trunk: cases containing 300 million yen. Despite a massive investigation, police never apprehended the culprits, and the case was closed in 1975.
That wouldn't be the end of it, though. Over 30 years later, a little-known writer going by the name of Misuzu Nakahara penned Hatsukoi, an autobiographical novel in which she claimed to be the mysterious rider. At the time of the robbery, she was only a high school student.
It's a ripe topic for filming, and Yukinari Hanawa's picture seems to have a lot stacked in its favor: a decent budget, evocative counter-culture settings and indie it-girl du jour Aoi Miyazaki in the title role. We follow Misuzu as, escaping a dismal home life, she starts hanging out with her brother and his mates at a scummy red light district jazz bar. There, she's drawn to the intelligent, aloof Kishi (Keisuke Koide), who buries his nose in books as he harbors plans for a perfect heist.
Plenty of dramatic potential here, then, but Hatsukoi is a curiously enervated piece of work, forever teetering on the brink between subtle and downright dull. Central to its problems is Miyazaki herself: her Misuzu is little more than a cipher, drifting impassively from one situation to the next. We're left with a gaping hole where the heart of this film should be, and the support cast struggle to fill it.
Given that the veracity of the source novel is hotly disputed, too, it seems odd that Hanawa should choose to do such a straight reading. I found myself longing for the ambiguity of, say, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, where you were never quite sure if the protagonist was a covert operative or merely a crackpot.