Sunday, April 28, 2019

Asako I & II

It's not actually that hard to get to the Belmont Studio when they have a special event like Belmont World Film's annual series - the 73 bus departs Harvard Square every few minutes - and it's apparently had a recent renovation to switch its previous seats out for couches, making for a fairly unique room. BWF itself is a neat event, with movies from around the world followed up by a discussion. Not necessarily with anyone connected with the film, but maybe someone who can speak to the subject matter. In this case, it was Shuei Kozu, who works at Boston Children's Hospital and teaches at Simmons, but who besides being from Kobe didn't necessarily have a lot of specific connection to this movie's subject matter.

She read the book to prepare, bringing her copy to show us - the density that Chinese and Japanese writing allows means that the book can be pretty compact compared to an English-language book of the same scale. Unfortunately, it kind of sounds like the book itself is a "Gen X dumping on Millennials" thing, with Asako a much less sympathetic character and Baku & Ryohei maybe not actually identical. The time frame was also changed, as the book was published before the big 2013 earthquake, and the film integrated it into the story. I suspect that I'd prefer the film if I read the book, but who knows?

One thing that was amusing was that she started out by talking about how this was a really weird movie, and I don't know about that. It's kind of a high concept movie, but maybe not truly bizarre in terms of what I've seen elsewhere It makes me wonder whether my conception of what constitutes a "weird Japanese film" is badly skewed from fifteen years of Fantasia trips and more before, or if the mostly-older crowd really needed to see Takashi Miike's Audition when it played the next weekend.

Netemo sametemo (Asako I & II)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 15 April 2019 in the Belmont Studio (Belmont World Film, DCP)

From what was said after the screening of Asako I & II that I attended, the film Ryusuke Hamaguchi made is rather different from Tomoka Shibasaki's novel, maintaining the basic concept but apparently giving the title character a more sympathetic characterization and otherwise moving things around. To whatever extent that's true, it seems to work out well; the movie version may occasionally be frustrating but only when meant to be, and it uses its concept of two apparently identical lovers to cover a lot of romantic ground without losing a sense of intimacy.

It opens in 2005, when Asako (Erika Karata) is a student in Osaka and meats Baku (Masahiro Higashide) outside an art gallery. Her friend Haruyo (Sairi Ito) immediately figures that Baku is bad news, even if she is classmakes with Baku's cousin Okazaki (Daichi Watanabe), but he is the sort that inexperienced girls like Asako fall for hard, no matter how clear the warning signs, and it ends when Baku goes out to buy shoes and doesn't return. Two years and a bit later, she's living in Tokyo and working at a coffee shop, collection some kettles from a meeting in a nearby office building when she meets Ryohei. He's a dead ringer for Baku but his polar opposite in personality - considerate, dependable, low-key in his charm - and immediately begins to pursue her, with neither her roommate Maya (Rio Yamashita) nor his co-worker Kushihashi (Koji Seto) understanding why she's being so weird about the whole thing.

There's an intriguing idea or three hidden inside Asako I & II that might work a little better if what I had expected to be the first half of the movie were given a little more space to play out - the film moves on from Baku and Osaka very quickly, and could maybe spend a bit more time giving an impression of who Asako is to start out with and maybe get Baku as solidly wedged into the audience's collective head as he is in hers. Being ghosted by her boyfriend messed with Asako enough to be positioned as this traumatic, formative experience but the impact winds up being a bit elusive for the audience. It's an understandable choice - first loves are powerful but this one in particular is pointedly superficial - but a little more of Asako pre-Baku or actually showing the breakup rather than a dry run could have helped a lot.

Full review on EFilmCritic

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