8 August 2014 | p-seed-889-188469
Understated story of family dynamics
At the risk of stating the obvious this is a very "japanese" movie, and those who have seen a few will know what I mean. Another reviewer has, with some justification, decried the notion that because a movie is Japanese it seems to automatically attain some sort of semi-mythical status that the same movie made in (say) America would not. Certainly there is a genre of Japanese movies that fall into the "movies where nothing happen" category, and as with many forms of art, sometimes we mistake emptiness and simplicity with great meaning. Sometimes it's hard to tell where greatness actually exists and where we make it up for ourselves, although I suppose since the final result is the same it is a bit of a moot point.
This movie borrows heavily from "Tokyo Story", another glacially paced movie of the inter-generational genre, but whereas the thrust of that movie was the younger generation's indifference and lack of time for the older generation this one is more about the simmering conflicts related to the death of a son, barely concealed resentments related to career choices, the failure to meet fatherly expectations, a mother's long held grudges, etc. As a family meets to commemorate the death of a son, we see a fine web of cracks start to radiate, all bubbling away nicely within the perfectly regimented framework of Japanese politeness and etiquette. The cracks are delicate but deep as the characters tip-toe around the many issues that interconnect 3 generations. Lurking below the surface of civility we see unpleasant aspects of most of the characters but in true Japanese style there are no raised voices, no shouting matches, no slammed doors, no accusations, no resolutions, no explosions, no car chases, no nudity, no violence - just swirling undercurrents. Some people will like this, others will not, and that is fine.
I enjoyed this movie, but it was not a world shattering event. I thought some opportunities for development were missed and I was particularly annoyed when the movie did not finish immediately after the narration near the end. This could have been a totally killer statement, at last, a statement of truth and brutal cruelty to contrast cataclysmically with the hour of banal politeness and withholding of feelings that preceded it. This would have given the whole movie some meaning and bite, but no, they had to spoil it by reverting to the pretense of everyone playing happy families.
In summary a good movie that those used to the "japanese" pace will enjoy, but probably not one that will change your life.