20 April 2015 | Kicino
Humanistic look at underdogs and frustrated Japanese crossing paths at a love hotel
Sayonara Kabukicho was all full during the 2015 Hong Kong International Film Festival so when I knew it was on public release, I rushed to see it.
Well, despite the exotic poster and the eye-catching translated title of "Kabukicho Love Hotel," it is a humanistic look at many frustrated but hardworking Japanese who happen to wind up in a Love Hotel in Kabukicho, a red light district in Shinjuku, Tokyo.
Throughout the movie, we can see the director and playwright have great empathy and respect for all the characters – who suffer from different frustrations and setbacks in life and end up in transition in Hotel Atlas, where guest can rent a room by the hour or by the night. But it is exactly here that they find their direction and move on with confidence and dignity.
The movie basically revolves around five couples whose lives are connected with this Love Hotel: the hotel manager (Shota Sometani) is stuck here although he aspired to work in a five-star hotel. He also owes his girlfriend's parents 1.4 million yen for his tuition fees so he did not tell her he works here. His girlfriend, played by AKB48 singer Atsuko Maeda, is an aspiring sing-song writer trying to secure a record contract but is confused as how to go about it.
One of the frequent guests to the hotel is a Korean call girl working for the last day before she returns to Korea to start her own business. She only tells her live-in boyfriend she works as a hostess so as to save up money to marry and return to Korea. Her boyfriend, a chef at a Korean restaurant by night and a student at day, has his own secrets. A middle aged woman working in the hotel as cleaning lady has her own secret and her identify is exposed only when another guest's secret affair is exposed.
A runaway girl ends up in the hotel with a yakuza simply for food and rest in exchange for sexual favor. But during the course of their interaction, things changes.
It seems every character has some secrets and that's why they are in this hotel. Yet when we know them better, we feel sorry for them. We feel their predicament and want to help in some ways. The movie runs 125 minutes but it does not feel long. Pacing is good and the way the stories are told is quite engaging. In the course of 24 hours, we seem to see the real lives of the characters, all of them some kind of underdogs in our society who either has lots of bad luck or has been abused by other people in power. Yet all of these characters have dreams and pride and deal with adversity with lots of self-respect. Hence the love hotel episode is just a transition in their life before they go on to pursue their dreams.
In a way, it is a comforting tribute and encouragement to the tsunami- beaten Japan, as depicted by the hotel manager's sister and her ending up in the hotel. In the end of the movie, all the main characters say goodbye to this love hotel and move on with their lives. The progress is smooth and acting good. Great character development and excellent intercept of witty dialogues, comical scenes and moving moments. Excellent exemplification of the Japanese resilience.