Kumiko AsoKippei ShiinaFumiyo KohinataShingo Tsurumi
Medium: film
Year: 2000
Director: Shinji Somai
Writer: Raimi Mori, Sho Narumi
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Actor: Kyoko Koizumi, Tadanobu Asano, Kumiko Aso, Akira Emoto, Yoshiko Kayama, Fumiyo Kohinata, Toshinori Omi, Kippei Shiina, Choei Takahashi, Shingo Tsurumi
Format: 116 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0261000/
Website category: Japanese
Review date: 22 March 2011
It's not for everyone. It's a movie about two suicide risks who've made a mess of their lives and are continuing to do so. Very little happens in it, for nearly two hours.
A marginal positive is that (surprisingly) it's not depressing. You couldn't call it cheerful, but it's actually watchable in a vaguely pointless kind of way. You don't really care about either of the protagonists, while the prospect of them committing suicide wouldn't be a horror but instead a fairly rational thing for them to do. Tadanobu Asano is a drunkard who goes with prostitutes and then can't get it up with them anyway. He's also as cold as ice and almost never expresses any kind of human reaction. Meanwhile Kyoko Koizumi makes a living by performing sex acts on strange men in bars, has a mild obsession with the idea of killing herself and has a five-year-old daughter who doesn't know what she looks like.
I didn't hate the movie. It's incredibly slow, I can't pretend I was riveted by it and my mind wandered on to other things a fair bit, but given all that it's okay. The ending's not too bad, although it's minimalist.
It's slightly confusing. They do quite a few flashbacks with nothing to tell you that they're flashbacks, so it took me a while to realise that Koizumi wasn't actually two different women. She used to be married, you see. However her husband died in a car accident, she had to give up her baby and now her life's unrecognisable from how it used to be. You can understand her situation, although that's not the same as saying that she had no choice but to turn to prostitution. At one point she's even offered regular work and isn't interested.
We know less about Asano, although we're told at one point that he changed when his mother died. However we can see that he's on a drunken road to self-destruction and you wouldn't want to put money on him still being alive even this time next year.
Anyway, the two of them waste time in Tokyo for a while, then hit the road to Hokkaido. I want to visit Hokkaido one day. It's the northernmost bit of Japan and a big, cold island with its own climate and even its own language. Mind you, even most Japanese people don't know that last bit and only about twenty people still speak it anyway, since it's not just a dialect of Japanese but as different from it as Welsh is from English. It seems that both Asano and Koizumi happen to come from there, which is just one of this film's slightly lazy coincidences. Neither are made welcome by their parents, needless to say. Asano's father simply tells him not to show his face, while Koizumi tries to visit her child and is told where to get off.
The movie's mostly about its two stars, really. They're okay. Tadanobu Asano you'll know from a lot of Japanese movies, partly because he's chosen to give up the more lucrative option of TV. I can understand that. He probably wasn't suited to it anyway. Japanese TV acting has lots of overacting and is often unwatchable, while Asano is fairly wooden. Okay, that could have been expressed more generously. He's not the most demonstrative of actors, tending towards the deadpan. I reckon his popularity is partly because he's tall, which always makes it easier for an actor to find work. (Incidentally he's only half-Japanese, his mother being of Navajo ancestry.) However that said, he's always professional and convincing in his roles and this one might have been tailor-made for him, going beyond emotionlessness into the land of cutting himself off from all other human contact.
As for Koizumi, she's good. I've no problems with her. She's another reasonably big name, being a singer who's also been in two of Japan's most successful movies ever, playing the serial killer in Bayside Shakedown (1998) and the witch in Onmyoji (2001). She won the Best Actress award at the 26th Hochi Film Award for this film.
This movie manages to have bits of slapdash plotting, despite not having a plot. I've already mentioned the unexplained coincidence of both characters being from Hokkaido, which we know wasn't what brought them together because we're shown in a flashback how they met. (It was professional, with Koizumi giving Asano a blow job.) Other coincidences though would include the magical snow, which comes and goes according to the movie's emotional requirements, and the way in which we're supposed to accept that that's Kaori at the end. Why should she be Kaori? We don't even know what she looks like. It's some random five-year-old. Oh, and why does the writing stay on Koizumi's leg? Japan has these things called baths.
All that said, though, the film's okay. Be aware of what you're getting into before you watch, but it's another Japanese exercise in minimalism with a reasonable ending. The acting's okay. It's a mood piece, deriving its weight from the fact that we know these people are on the edge of killing themselves (or possibly even each other). No nudity, though.
"Kaza-hana" means "wind-flower", by the way.