Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 30, 2023 6:42 pm 
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Creeped out by her rural grandparents

Yuta Shimotsu's feature debut Best Wishes to All みなに幸あれ, a troubling, but ultimately disappointing puzzler, is about a Tokyo nursing student dedicated to doing good at every opportunity. We follow her on a break-time visit to her grandparents in a peaceful village setting. The grandparents seem sweet and very happy, but then odd things start to happen. Shimotsu provides a disturbingly weird J-horror-inspired first 30 minutes. I was genuinely unnerved by those scenes in the old folks' house. Unfortunately, things don't build or even connect very well in the scenes that make up the concluding fifty-five minutes.

It's not the fault of the actors. Everyone does their job competently, and Kotone Furukawa who won the Berlinale Silver Bear for her performance in the second segment of Hamaguchi's celebrated three-part Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (2018), is fine in the lead. There is great use of the seemingly soothing and the mundane: the idyllic rural setting, the sweet, conventional grandparents, the grandparents' classic traditional Japanese house, all of which become the more disturbing because of how reassuring they seemed at first. The tech aspects and location shooting are fine. But there is a line between disturbingly weird and incoherent that is crossed - going in the wrong direction.

There's a concept here - in fact the film seems to get lost in it. Maybe it would have been better without one, because it seems to come in and out of focus, as does the "fantastic" element. The screenplay seems to have needed further work, or the filming of it needed more cinematic flair. The general idea is something about happiness, and whether you earn it through doing good or, well, being evil, e.g., by selectively tormenting others. ("What would you do for happiness?" is a slogan for the film.) There also seems to be a conspiracy of evil practices in the village world the protagonist is visiting - one that some young people baulk at joining in on, usually giving up and acting like everybody else in he end. Apparently this happens to the protagonist. But since at the end she has gone back to Tokyo and resumed her life as a nursing student, that's not clear.

There are also hints that the protagonist has been having disturbing flashbacks to earlier experiences - or may even be imagining a lot of this, since some moments certainly are only her mental "what-ifs." But that also isn't worked out forcefully enough to cohere; indeed further undercuts the coherence of what should be the film's main development section. Shimotsu and his co-writer Rumi Kakuta developed a great opening half hour and apparently didn't realize the rest needed more work. Unless your an offbeat Japanese horror-concept movie completest this film can't be recommended.

Best Wishes to All/aka Regards to All みなに幸あれ, 89 min., debuted at Shanghai Jun. 10, 2023, also showing at Bucheon fantastic festival July 1. Screened for this review as part of the NYC Japan Society festival Japan Cuts, where it was shown Thursday, July 27, 2023 at 9:00 pm. (North American premiere.)

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