Review: His Lost Name

The cautious tone and austere aesthetic of Nanako Hirose’s debut feature was what most likely got it placed in the New Currents section of the most recent Busan International Film Festival, where it had its world premiere. New Currents is the only section of the festival with a dedicated competition, and it’s limited to films that are the first or second feature of their respective directors. They are also limited to Asian films, and over the years a certain type of film has ended up in the section, and they tend to look and sound a lot like His Lost Name. They also tend to be more interesting or, at least, more exciting. The fact that this was the lone Japanese entrant in the category says more about Japanese indie films than it does about new Asian directors.

As everyone loves to point out, Hirose has apprenticed with Hirokazu Koreeda, and you can see Koreeda’s fondness for the offbeat family dynamic in Hirose’s script. Yuya Yagira plays a young man, Shinichi, who jumps into a river in rural Chiba. An older woodworker, Tetsuro (Kaoru Kobayashi), sees his body in the water while driving by and fishes him out. But the audience’s immediate concerns—why did Shinichi jump, mainly—are continually pushed to the side until they seem to have no bearing on either anything that goes on in the story or, for that matter, the movie itself. Tetsuro is not particularly interested, in fact, especially after he learns the young man’s name is Shinichi, which just happens to be the name of his son, who is no longer around. This coincidence is the movie’s lynchpin, and while Hirose doesn’t belabor the matter she also places too much faith in the notion that it will be enough for the viewer.

It becomes clear that Tetsuro sees Shinichi as the replacement of his blood heir, and all plot devices are set toward realization of a family in name only, and while there are suspicions among locals, in particular Tetsuro’s employees and creditors and the younger woman (Keiko Horiuchi) he plans to marry, all tend to feel that Tetsuro’s happiness is paramount and go along with the fairy tale—except, of course, Shinichi, whose dark past can’t be banished the way the original Shinichi’s guitar was locked away in its case. Eventually, the effort to be a son to a man who, despite his generosity and decency, can’t see past his own self-pity and guilt, becomes too much to bear.

The ambiguities at work might have made this a fine addition to the New Currents tradition, but Yagira’s performance is anything but ambiguous, or subtle. His painful reticence act becomes tiring and then just plain unbearable. It’s difficult to believe any of these characters would want to be in a room with him for more than a few minutes. People just don’t act this way, even those with terrible secrets.

In Japanese. Now playing in Tokyo at Shinjuku Picadilly (050-6861-3011), Uplink Shibuya (03-6825-5503).

His Lost Name home page in Japanese.

photo (c) 2019 Yoake Seisaku Iinkai

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