June 2017 movies

Here are the movie reviews I wrote for the June issue of EL Magazine, which was distributed in Tokyo last week.

Afterimage
Andrzej Wajda’s final movie is a fitting study of an artist under pressure, a role Wajda himself has played throughout his career, often in a self-conscious way. The subject is Wladyslaw Strzeminski (Boguslaw Linda), a Polish avant garde painter who lost an arm and a leg in WWI and was trained in the Soviet Union. By the end of WWII he is a respected artist whose work is admired by the cognoscenti and whose theories are worshipped by his students at the School of Visual Arts in Lodz. But in the postwar chill, as Stalin’s grip on Eastern Europe becomes tighter, the authorities no longer have any use for abstract art, and demand only Social Realism. Strzeminski refuses to recant his theories or his methods, and as a result loses his job and his access to supplies. He died starving and homeless. Though this sort of tragedy is right up Wajda’s alley, there’s not a lot of dramatic balance to the story. The peripheral characters adhere to types that do little to engage our sympathies, either for Strzeminski or his plight, as dire as it is. In Polish. (photo: Akson Studio Sp. z.o.o, Telewijza Polska S.A. EC1-Lodz Miasto Kultury, Narodowy Intyutut Audiowizualny, Festiwal Filmowy Camerimage Fundacja Tumult)

Arrival
As genre cinema goes, Denis Villeneuve’s first foray into science fiction isn’t quite as impressive as last year’s shoot-em-up Sicario, which succeeded mainly on the strength of its up-to-the-minute topicality. Arrival, based on a short story by Ted Chiang, has a rather thin premise on the surface. ETs arrive at different locations around the globe without any warning, their ovaloid spaceships hovering ominously several meters above the ground. Contact is difficult, and a linguistics professor, Louise Banks (Amy Adams), and a mathematician, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), are recruited to “communicate” with those visitors who have arrived in rural Montana. Most of the action, therefore, takes place in the intellect, and the thrills are mostly ones of discovery. Villeneuve, as intelligent as he is, doesn’t know what to do with this inner tension, and most of the first half of the film is dominated by visual handiwork that keeps the audience as off balance as the scientists are with regard to figuring these beings out. Inside the spacecraft, the aliens and the earthlings are separated by a translucent barrier on which the squid-like guests deposit patterns in what looks like black ink. In theory, Villeneuve should have it easier than Chiang because he doesn’t have to explain the ieffable. He just has to show it, but it’s clear to any astute viewer that we’re meant to pick up the same clues as these experts, and when that fails to happen the movie turns into a series of riddles that can only be solved once the viewer understands the liberties being taken with chronology. Chiang, apparently, incorporated linguistic tricks in his story that pointed toward a solution, and Villeneuve’s decision to transpose these tricks into visual and temporal clues probably makes sense only in his mind. We don’t pick up on the sexual frisson between Banks and Donnelly until it’s too late, and the revelation feels cheap. You think yourself a fool for having missed it. And in the second half of the film the director stuffs the narrative with set pieces that hint at something apocalyptic but which turns out to be much less eventful. It’s not as if the story flies over the heads of the audience, but rather that the subject itself seems confounded by the prerogatives of big-budget filmmaking, which demand high emotional impact. In that regard, Villeneuve was probably the best the producers could have hoped for, even if the material was basically impossible to adapt to the big screen.

Cafe Society
Woody Allen breaks no new ground with his latest comedy, though in Kristen Stewart he finds an actress who, like Cate Blanchett, manages to resist the box-fitting tendencies of Allen’s female characters. Vonnie is one of those young hopefuls who came to Hollywood in the 30s to make it big. She ends up as the receptionist to a hard-driving agent (Steve Carrell), with whom she falls into an affair. Along comes the agent’s nephew, Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg), from the Bronx, looking for work. Naturally, he falls in love with Vonnie, whose feelings are mutual but also conflicted, for obvious reasons. If Allen seems bored with this hackneyed plot, he abandons it for something juicier—Bobby’s success back east as the proprietor of a nightclub financed by his mobster brother. It’s easy to get the impression that Allen couldn’t decide if either story was good enough for a feature, so he combined the two, and in that regard, the movie is entertaining. In other words, it doesn’t embarrass itself, and at times it’s even funny. (photo: Gravier Productions Inc.)

Dog Eat Dog
Three loser ex-cons hang out together because of loyalties forged in the joint, and in accordance with the laws of cinema they end up in an even worse situation, but not before doing very bad things to others. In the opening scene, which is played for comedy, the psychopathic Mad Dog (Willem Dafoe) crashes at an ex-girlfriend’s house and ends up butchering her and her teenage daughter because he doesn’t like the sound of their voices. Paul Schrader, who directed but didn’t write this mess, has only ever elicited laughs inadvertently, and here only he, in a cameo as a criminal employer of these three goofballs, comes across as funny. Even Nicolas Cage, usually reliably filpped out, can’t elevate his stupid (on purpose) Bogie impersonation to anywhere near the level of silliness required. Christopher Matthew Cook, as the only member who seems to have a screw tightened, manages a smidgen of empathy, especially in a scene where he picks up a cynical girl in a bar and then scares the shit out of her with his volatility. He apologizes. Schrader should do the same. (photo: Blue Budgie Ded Productions Inc.)

The Fate of the Furious
No series in the annals of Hollywood has taken formula as seriously as this gearhead concoction. What’s surprising is how well it’s done considering how far it’s strayed from its street racing origins. Street racing, in Havana, opens the film, but it’s only a matter of minutes before the international terrorist heavy, a blonde bombshell named Cipher (Charlize Theron), highjacks the hyper-principled crew leader, Dom (Vin Diesel), and makes him bend to her will. The rest of the crew are again recruited by some American intelligence blob headed by this year’s boomer savior, Kurt Russell, to foil their chief, whose motives remain opaque until the last reel. In between, the setting jumps all over the world and the destructo car action includes battles with tanks and even a submarine. The ridiculousness factor isn’t even a factor any more, since the filmmakers’ only mission is to perpetuate a franchise that never looks back in terms of stunts you may have seen before. The only refreshing change is Jason Statham’s promotion to good guy, as if you could tell the difference. (photo: Universal Studios)

Gold
Though it hasn’t eclipsed the crime action genre in the imaginations of the cinema-going public, the financial potboiler, as exemplified by The Wolf of Wall Street and The Big Short, has become a bona fide subset of movies that can draw crowds. Stephen Gaghan, who co-wrote Traffic and directed Syriana, understands the basic appeal of international trade to the average person, the way deals—both legal and illegal—have their own sex appeal, and he’s a shrewd enough storyteller to understand how to make the nuts and bolts of such deals, even when they seem incomprehensible to lay people, feel momentous. Gold is about the mining industry, specifically the modern idea of the prospector, who isn’t a guy with a pickaxe or a pan fitfully searching for nuggets, but someone with money and a network of technicians who sniffs out opportunities and takes chances from the safety of his office suite. Supposedly based on a true story, the movie focuses on Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey), a chain-smoking, whiskey-swilling go-getter with a pot belly and thinning hair who nonetheless is a charmer in his Las Vegasy, 1980s way; a man who inherited his mine prospecting business from his beloved father, who conveyed to his son the romantic appeal of such work. Because of Kenny’s hyper disposition, this romanticism takes on a needy cast that translates as reckless opportunism resulting in near bankruptcy. He needs a strike and bets it all on the expertise of geologist Mike Acosta (Edgar Ramirez), who thinks there may be gold in the jungles of Indonesia. After months of expensive exploration, they finally hit paydirt, and that’s when Gaghan’s storytelling smarts come into their own, as Wells parlays what is essentially the “prospect” of a gold mine into millions of dollars in investments. Given the supercharged economy of the late 80s and the lack of restrictions on Wall Street, Wells has his work cut out for him, and his fiery, suspicious temperament is taken in stride by the business sharks. Thoughout this saga, Wells is ably assisted by his wife, Kaylene (Bryce Dallas Howard), a waitress whose tolerance of her husband’s fecklessness proves her love—until it collapses of its own volition. But in the end, it’s Wells’ love for Acosta that makes or breaks him, and if the movie fails to really sell this love it isn’t McConaughey’s fault. The actor was made to play Kenny Wells, and while the character doesn’t stack up to past McConaughey blowhards it’s the fault of the script, which isolates Wells too much at the expense of the larger idea. What makes a financial potboiler work is the way a specific story illustrates the bigger economic picture, and Gold is just about Wells, and McConaughey’s limitless capacity to play sympathetic rogues. (photo: Lewis Jacobs)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Like the Fast and Furious series, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy franchise depends a lot on its theme of an unconventional family. The space monkeys who make up the Guardians bonded at the end of the first film in typically sentimental fashion after having survived near death experiences…but with laughs. Vol. 2 is the same only bigger, but now that the family business is established, the violent set pieces are held together with stronger emotional glue. That family is augmented when Peter (Chris Pratt) discovers his real father, Ego (Kurt Russell, again), an “immortal demigod,” in his own words. It doesn’t take the audience long to realize that Ego, apropos his name, cares about nothing but himself, but Peter’s head is turned by the notion that he is from something. Each of the other guardians has his/her own subplot, and, in fact, Peter’s Freudian crisis, abetted by his mixtape of late 70s radio rock, seems a sop to the audience’s identification issues with this kind of material. Rest assured, Marvel, it’s not why they came. (photo: Marvel Studios)

The Last Princess
Based on a novel but grounded in fact, Hur Jin-ho’s swashbuckling epic takes on the last royal member of Korea’s Joseon Dynasty, Princess Yi Deok-hye (Son Ye-jin), and regardless of whether or not locals know the real story, everyone will probably figure out that much of the tale has been pumped up for the sake of excitement, and, in fact, the movie was a big hit in South Korea. As with many films that scan the prewar colonial period, the Japanese depicted are less the villains than are those Koreans who accommodated them. After her father, the emperor, is murdered, Deok-hye’s intransigence toward her Japanese overlords intensifies and she is sent to Japan to be reeducated. Constantly a thorn in the sides of her keepers, they need her to justify their oppression, and she responds by aiding the underground resistance in a ripping sequence as good as anything David Lean directed. The romantic aspects are balanced by unavoidable concessions to actual history, but given how Deok-hye ended her life, the gross sentimentality of the finale is earned. In Korean & Japanese. (photo: DCG Plus & Lotte Entertainment)

Life
This tidy little sci-fi shocker is yet another variation on the Alien theme, though in this case human error is the main motivating factor behind the resulting carnage. The creature in the Ridley Scott classic was designed to look evil and act that way, while the creature in Life is simply running on nerve endings—it has no brain, it simply seeks out other life forms and kills them. The error seems innocent enough. The crew of the International Space Station is tasked with retrieving a vessel that has come back from Mars with soil samples, and after a difficult effort retrieving it, the crew’s biologist (Ariyon Bakare) discovers that the soil contains a single-cell creature. Everybody is ecstatic, and the news travels to earth where the media hold a contest to name the paramecium. A little girl dubs it Calvin. It isn’t long, however, before Calvin, apparently stimulated by the oxygen-rich atmosphere in the space station, starts growing in strange and wonderful ways, and by the time it reaches jellyfish size it has developed an appetite, though the biologist doesn’t realize this until it’s too late. Ryan Reynolds, as the ship’s engineer and token bad-ass, attempts to save him to no avail and what you get is globs of blood floating in zero gravity, something you didn’t get in Alien. Though brainless, Calvin somehow “understands” how to escape the clutches of the other crew members, which include the earth-allergic leader, Dr. Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), who’s been up in space a little too long; the representative from the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. North (Rebecca Ferguson), who is there to make sure no deadly bacteria makes it back to terra firma; a Japanese engineer (Hiroyuki Sanada); and a Russian communications officer (Olga Dihovichnaya). Inevitably, the action comes down to guessing which crew member will buy it next, and if director Daniel Espinosa doesn’t do anything original with this familiar plot device, he demonstrates an excellent feel for space, as well as a fine eye for emotional development. The first half hour has the placid rhythms of boring routine, which is what you expect an extended stay in space would entail, and once Calvin is let loose within the ship the sudden shift in tension is palpable. The biggest difference with Alien, however, is Espinosa’s use of terror and suspense. For the most part, Life doesn’t grab at you the way Alien did. Most of the scares are telegraphed and once we get an idea of Calvin’s m.o. the initial disgust wears off quickly. In truth, screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick have a completely different sort of existential scare up their sleeves, which they save for the end. Some might call it a cheat, but those people would be expecting too much from a movie like this.

The Light Between Oceans
Derek Cianfrance’s previous two films demonstrated a mind finely attuned to the trappings of melodrama, even if the movies themselves were too rarefied for melodramatic tastes. His adaptation of M.L. Stedman’s bestseller is more like it. Tom (Michael Fassbender) returns to Australia from the trenches of WWI with shell shock and a desire to live apart from humans, so he takes a job as a lighthouse keeper. The solicitude of the locals brings him into contact with the equally introspective Isabel (Alicia Vikander), who lost 2 brothers in Europe. They wed and live an idyll, but Isabel loses their child in a miscarriage that is presented in all its horrible unfairness. The tragedy undoes Isabel and leads Tom astray, morally. They become co-conspirators in a lie they can never sustain, and it’s to Cianfrance’s credit that he himself can sustain the suspense and the painful reckoning that confronts the couple during the long second half of the film. Though neither character is sympathetic within the confines of the story, the movie gives you plenty of reasons to weep for them. (photo: Storyteller Distribution Co. LLC)

Logan
The X-Men saga has become so convoluted that Logan-Wolverine’s emergence as the most individualized member of a group whose reason d’etre is to stick together is the only explanation for why the series works. In the third spinoff dedicated to the clawed mutant, the character’s angst is so acute that there’s little difference any more between his social skills and his feral viciousness. As it turns out, there’s a child mutant in the world whose every bit as savage as Logan (Hugh Jackman), and they may be related by blood. She can rip and shred with the best of them, and director James Mangold isn’t afraid to exploit that R-rating. What’s different about Logan is its atmosphere. It’s basically a road movie that sticks to the backstreets of America, as Logan and the girl fitfully bond and the older man keeps the blades mostly in his mitts. As usual, the heavy is the corporate mindset, as personified by the evil geneticist (Richard E. Grant) who helped create the girl and wants her back. Against all odds, it’s the most human-sized film in the franchise. (photo: Twentieth Century Fox)

Manchester by the Sea
Kenneth Lonergan’s movies unfold at a leisurely pace that masks the desperation boiling under the relationships on view. When we meet Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), he’s working as a handyman for an apartment management firm in Boston and obviously hating it. His loneliness is conveyed through scenes of hanging out in bars and watching TV in a dingy basement apartment. Then he gets a call saying his brother (Kyle Chandler) has died of a heart attack, and the conflicted response telegraphs the notion that he’s not in Boston because he wants to be. He trudges back to the titular coastal fishing town to take care of his brother’s affairs, in particular his nephew, Patrick (Ben O’Brien), a boy he used to be close to but not any more. For reasons not initially clear, Lee’s brother wanted Lee to be Patrick’s guardian, not his estranged wife, Elise (Gretchen Mol), who has remarried and is raising a new family. What’s particularly effective about this approach is that it keeps the viewer guessing, since Lee’s hangdog demeanor would seem to disqualify him for any task that requires emotional investment and adult responsibility. Patrick understands this instinctively and chides his uncle for trying to take the place of his father. Lee can’t quite get his head around his nephew’s sexual adventurism, which is casual to the point of hilarity. But in the end, what we really need to know, and what Lonergan keeps from us for the longest time, is what makes Lee so downcast, and once that intelligence is revealed the movie takes on an entirely new cast, one that changes our feelings toward all the characters we’ve already gotten used to. There is one new figure, though: Randi (Michelle Williams), Lee’s own ex-wife, whose empathy toward her former mate only serves to make watching their interaction all the more uncomfortable. What’s bracing about the movie is how every bar fight, every line of stilted dialogue, every beautiful shot of New England domesticity works to elevate the story rather than confound it. Lee’s effort to be the guardian his brother wants him to be is mighty and, at first, seems fruitless, but it makes for effortlessly affecting human drama. Manchester by the Sea, which is often sad to the point of unwatchable, handles multiple tragedies with an almost impersonal deftness. Lonergan’s observational skills are scary. If he were a documentarian, he’d be dangerous. (photo: K Films Manchester LLC)

A Monster Calls
Young Conor (Lewis MacDougall) wears his misery like a badge, inviting the wrath of bullies at his school. Conor’s mother (Felicity Jones) is dying and there’s nothing he can do about it. He rages against everything and invents a monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) who challenges him with stories that are supposed to show him the way. If Conor seems confused by the purpose of these allegories, which director J.A. Bayona animates in vivid watercolors, it doesn’t begin to describe the viewer’s reaction. In general, Patrick Ness’s screenplay, based on his own novel, is too “wise” by half, which is a shame since the basic theme of an immature soul’s inability to confront death is handled with a great deal of understanding. Conor’s emotional frailty is presented in all its messy detail, and MacDougall is a real find, an instinctive actor who isn’t afraid of his baser feelings. Sigourney Weaver, as his patient but frank grandmother, is also unusually subtle, even if her English accent wobbles a bit. The monster is mostly a distraction, and an unnecessary one. (photo: Apaches Entertainment, SL; Telecinco Cinema, SAU; A Monster Calls, AIE; Peliculas La Trini, SLU)

Rupture
Given its clever take on gender politics, the 2006 film Secretary gave its director, Steven Shainberg, a reputation as a provocateur. His new movie, Rupture, is about a divorced mother kidnapped by a shadowy organization and spirited to a dank, dungeon-like industrial building where she is tortured for reasons that remain hazy until the end of the film. We know Renee (Noomi Rapace) is being specifically targeted because early scenes are shot as if through surveillance cameras installed in her suburban home. These visuals prepare us for something officious, as if she were being observed by a sinister government function, but Shainberg clumsily keeps intelligence at bay. Whenever her captors have something to say, it’s shrouded in double-speak. “Just let yourself go,” they say, as she’s confronted with another humiliating, terrifying indignity. The “rupture” they are aiming for becomes an annoying verbal leitmotif. Shainberg gets some needed suspense mileage with a middle passage chronicling Renee’s attempt at escape, but eventually her reasons for being there come out, and they’re laughably unconvincing. (photo: Rupture CAL, Inc.)

Personal Shopper
Few cinematic worlds are as strange as that of Olivier Assayas. His characters are rarely rooted in a place or even a time. They seem to exist only in the imagination of their creator. Maureen (Kristen Stewart) is doubly dislocated: an American in Paris, she works as a personal shopper to a high-flying celebrity who we only glimpse once, but in any case, Maureen’s attentions are mainly occupied by her vocation as a spiritual medium, a skill she shared with her twin brother, who recently died. In the hardly creepy opening scene, Maureen is dispatched to exorcise the house where he died and which he is supposedly haunting, and Assayas betrays no doubt that ghosts do exist. But the really spooky part of the movie is Maureen’s run-in with a stalker who provokes her through her iPhone. Now here’s a disembodied spirit who does seem purely malevolent, and as Maureen’s actions become increasingly reckless, you beging to understand the restless nature that brought her to this juncture in her life. The viewer may want to look away. Some people’s lives are way too personal. In English & French. (photo: CG Cinema-Vortex Sutra-DetailFilm-Sirena Film-Arte France Cinema-Arte Deutschland/WDR)

The Salesman
It’s difficult to underestimate how vital Asghar Farhadi’s films have become. More than just illuminating the social intricacies of life in modern Iran, they present the craft of storytelling for the screen with an intensity that hasn’t been this strong in years. In this meticulously plotted mystery, a couple is forced to flee their structurally compromised Teheran apartment and take up temporary lodgings in another one whose previous tenant has left much of her belongings behind. Though hints are dropped that this woman’s “social life” is perhaps a bit too free, nothing much is made of it, but then one day, while the wife, Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), is alone, a male stranger enters the apartment and attacks her, leaving her bloodied and unconscious. Her husband, Emad (Shahab Hosseini), is determined to find out who the perpetrator is, a task that forces him, and Rana, to face the malevolence that lies just under the surface of their staid community. It also forces them to confront their own fears of personal incompetency. The couple is eventually torn apart by the doggedness of Emad’s mission, which turns out to be too successful. The title refers to the Arthur Miller play, Death of a Salesman, which both Rana and Emad are staging, and while the parallels are easy to locate, the film plays out more like a police procedural as Emad tracks down the attacker using clues derived from the previous tenant’s belongings (the attacker was obviously looking for her) as well as forensic devices such as cell phone records. Though there’s an almost humorous geekiness to the way Farhadi draws out the suspense, the idea is to show that Emad’s obsession has more to it than simply avenging his wife’s honor and, in turn, his own manhood. Talking to his students in an early scene where they play a trick on him, his reaction is so perverse, so contrary to his measured intellect, that you suspect he’s got some real self-actualization issues. In effect, he hates being in the dark about anything, and his vengeful attitude outstrips the original crime in terms of personal failing; or, at least, it does as far as the viewer is concerned, because that’s mainly what we see. As it turns out, the attacker is not the monster we or Emad expect, and that may be the most disturbing—and enlightening—aspect of this unique, fascinating film. In Farsi. (photo: Memento Films Prod., Asghar Farhadi Prod., Arte France Cinema)

Toni Erdmann
Though Germans can be funny, their comedy films usually aren’t. Maren Ade’s Oscar-nominated hit is an exception. Essentially a family drama, the movie takes place in Bucharest, where Ines (Sandra Huller), a jet-setting corporate consultant, is helping birth a venture deal. While wining and dining the client, her estranged father, Winfried (Peter Simonischek), arrives in costume and starts hanging around. Used to such shenanigans since she was a child, Ines ignores him until his presence becomes too much. “It’s just a joke,” he tells her, but a lifetime of such jokes has taken its toll on their relationship. She banishes him back to Germany, but he sticks around, continuing to annoy her in a series of ever more ridiculous costumes until her resistance is broken. What’s so disarming about Toni Erdmann (one of Winfried’s aliases) is how Winfried’s clumsy subterfuges work on the audience as effectively as they work on Ines. Her reaction is not only funny, but poignant, especially in one scene where she sings “The Greatest Love of All” on a dare and nails it to your heart. In German & English. (photo: Komplizen Film)

20th Century Women
A period piece that manages to capture its era without making a fuss about it, Mike Mills’ semi-autobiographical feature takes a bifurcated look at post-60s feminism. Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening) was 55 years old in 1979, when the movie takes place, and already over-the-hill by flower power standards in 1964, when she gave birth to Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), whose father left them early on. Raised by his game but continually confused mother, as well as a twentyish art student (Greta Gerwig) who rents a room in their crumbling Santa Barbara house, and a teenage neighbor (Elle Fanning) he has a crush on and who has adopted her psychologist mother’s jargon to explain him to himself, Jamie has plenty to be confused about on his own, mainly because all four of these souls seem to be supporting one another emotionally in those weird days when punk was ascendant, the president chided the nation for its “crisis of confidence,” and the postwar promise of constant growth was finally understood to be a lie. Though Mills can often be as precious as Wes Anderson—a labored dinner table riff on female physiognomy seems to go on forever—he has proven that he knows how to make the best of weird family situations. In his previous film, Beginners, also semi-autibiographical, the Mills-identified character played by Ewan McGregor had to address his elderly father’s decision to finally come out of the closet, a situation that sounds contrived but which he fashioned with sensitivity and understanding. The circumstances in 20th Century Women are no less contrived, but they’re also more varied and variable owing to the larger cast and the greater number of permutations involved. And for the record, Dorothea, with her rich backstory and uncompromisingly open attitude toward where life is leading her, is much more interesting thatn Christopher Plummer’s old rogue, a man who, despite his hidden past, was already complete by the time we meet him. Bening brings out this quality in Dorothea with a rare robustness. She’s so present in every moment of the film that you wonder how many takes they needed for each scene. If there’s one thing Mills knows how to do it is staging an emotional epiphany. Even better, Bening knows how to deliver one. (photo: Modern People LLC)

Yaeko’s Humming
There’s a predictable cloying quality to Kiyoshi Sasabe’s movie, based on a non-fiction book, about early-onset Alzheimer’s, but due to a fairly straightforward exposition it’s also informative in ways that Japanese melodramas seldom are. Much is made of Ishizaki’s (Takeshi Masu) attachment to his wife, Yaeko (Yoko Takahashi), and when her symptoms become too much for him to handle, he resists asking for help, worrying that he doesn’t want to cause her too much embarrassment. Thanks mainly to the ministrations of their family doctor (Tomio Umezawa), Ishizaki learns that his wife is still there in some form, even if it doesn’t come up to the surface. Though the movie could use a little more humor and Masu’s acting shades toward the purplish, the movie manages to be reassuring without being dishonest. The only troubling aspect is that the couple’s situation—a comfortable middle class life in an inexpensive regional capital with lots of community and family support—isn’t the norm any more in Japan, if, in fact, it ever was. Honest, yes, but realistic? In Japanese. (photo: Team Yaeko no Hamingu)

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