Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 14, 2017 3:24 pm 
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Japanese males growing up

A film about awakenings, Miwa Nishikawa's The Long Excuse shifts focus. First it's on Sachio (Masahiro Motoki, oddly, in his first serious feature since the 2008 Oscar-winning Departures ), a novelist and minor TV celebrity past his prime. When first seen he's a cad who's rude to his hairdresser wife Natsuko (Eri Fukatsu) - he probably looks down on her socially - and totally self-centered when she dies in a bus that crashes into a frozen lake. He's sleeping with another woman when he gets the news; his wife's trip was just an excuse for him to have fun with his mistress. He lays his grieving on heavy for public attention - after all he's a TV personality, if minor - but he feels nothing. Attention shifts to Yoichi (Pistol Takehara), truly and dramatically (or at least simply and directly) grieving his wife, a friend of Natsuko's who was on a ski trip with her and died by her side in the bus.

Nishikawa, whose screenplay takes off from her own novel, loads the dice, giving Sachio a life that favors superficiality and making Yoichi a truck driver who's not too bright so he can be a direct, simple guy. It works though. Attention shifts again when Sachio helps Yoichi take care of his pre-middle school son Shinpei (Kenshin Fujita) and preschool daughter Akari (Tamaki Shiratori) because Yoichi can't cope. Now Shinpei, whom his father had taken out of school to care for his little sister, has a chance once more of cramming to get into junior high. This enables Sachio to feel good about himself and delay facing the loneliness of his own grief. Action spans a year and Fujita, visibly growing into adolescence and rebellion, bright, angry, and at odds with his simple dad, steals the show, though the two adult males do some noisy fighting and growing up. Some interesting bonding and reality-checking take place here. Nishikawa doesn't avoid sentimentality 100%, but this is an interesting watch with fresh female angles on Japanese family life.

Maggie Lee notes in her Variety review that "as in her last three films — Sway, Dear Doctor, and Dreams for Sale all centered on liars and swindlers — self-deception is the theme" of this, Nishikawa's fifth film. Her depiction of men is a bit simplistic, though less so in the case of the vain writer and TV personality, but she is both astute and hopeful in suggesting a child might lead a superficial adult to become more real. In fact the kids and Sachio's bonding with the boy are expanded beyond Nishikawa's original novel. Some of the best details are here, for example the way Sachio draws a blank when left alone with little Akari, who won't answer his silly questions, or go out shopping with him, but will go when it's time to meet Shinpei at the bus. Many little details of the inexperienced adult engaged in the immense task of minding a small child are witty and well observed.

Midway comes the moment when Sachio's personal manager Kinoshita (Sosuke Ikematsu), young, but with four kids, points out to him that his surrogate parenting is just putting off his own grieving, which he's just dragging out. Kids are a great escape for a man, Kinshita points out: they let him forget "what an asshole I am." According to Maggie Lee's review, the novel was Nishikawa's effort to get at how collective mourning over the great 2011 earthquake led individuals to void dealing with their own real, immediate losses - as Sachio is doing here.

Sachio's still not really grieving when he starts doing a TV piece about the act of it. He's at the center always in the movie - and Masahiro Motoki bravely a shoulders the role of a jerk, if one who's learning, gradually earning our sympathy.

The Long Excuse / 永い言い訳 (Nagai iiwake), 124 mins., debuted at Toronto Sept. 2016; also Busan, Vancouver, Hong Kong, Rome, Kaohsiung (Taiwan) and other festivals including SFIFF (where I first saw it) and San Diego. Theatrical release Japan Oct. 2016. Reviewed here as part of NYAFF 2017, expanding my earlier SFIFFreview based on a second viewing.


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