20 November 2007 | harry_tk_yung
Ordinary life; profound insight
"Tokyo Tower: mom and me, and sometimes dad" is Masaya Nakagawa's (stage name Lily Franky) bestseller that has been compared to Haruki Murakami's "Norwegian Woods" in terms of popularity in Japan. This auto-biographical book focusing on Nakagawa's endearing relationship had with his mother has now been made into a wonderful movie.
Clearly, director Joji Matsouka has made a very conscious effort to steer clear of pretentious, sappy scenes and the result is a movie that is so close to real life that it touches you on a different, more sublime level. He has wisely avoided glorifying the mother into a stereotyped "ideal woman" persona. Instead, we see in her a childlike simplicity that sometimes verges on silliness. Nor is she a flawless human being. Her embracing the son's university graduation certificate as he most important asset is a little outdated in this day and age. But all that makes her ever so human, real and endearing.
Two echoing scenes could have easily succumbed to contrived tearjerkers but didn't mother seeing teenage son off to go to college in Tokyo, and son meeting mother in Tokyo 15 years later, bringing her to live with him. Emotion is kept in low simmer and never allowed to boil over. In the latter scene, the heart-warming music does a lot.
Neither does the director shy away from showing at great length the devastating agony of the mother and son's fight against her terminal gastric cancer. Again, the story is told plainly, with minimum deliberate manipulation of the audiences' emotion. This sequence reminds me particularly of a similar situation in Norwegian Woods where a daughter takes care of a dying father.
Unlike the depressingly tragic story of Korea's Cannes winner (best actress) "Miyang" (2006) which I saw recently, Tokyo Tower is a story of an ordinary life with its share of joys and woes. There is no villain. Indeed, the father, an alcoholic artist, deserts his wife but there is no malice. Towards the end you can't help but love this irresponsible man a little. There is sparkling humor throughout the movie. Both actresses who play the mother (in two stages of her life) are simply marvelous. Playing the son in a credible performance is Jo Odaggiri who was the dashingly handsome ninja in "Shinobi" (2005). In a lesser but still important role as his girlfriend is Takako Matsu who is just as fresh and charming as she was in "April story" (1998).