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PostPosted: Sun Aug 13, 2023 5:49 pm 
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AIMI NATSUKO: SAGA SAGA 緑のざわめき (2023) - JAPAN CUTS, JULY 26-AUGUST 6, 2023

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RENA MATSUI IN SAGA SAGA

Surprise connections

Natsuko's teasing, slightly misfired sophomore feature, presented in Academy ratio, gradually narrows down a world that at first seemed loose-limbed and far-flung: the main characters turn out all to be related by the male line and confined by unpleasant memories. Kyoko (Rena Matsui), who has been working as a film actor in Tokyo, flees from all that, takes a lowly clerk job, and moves out of the metropolis. Nahoko (Sae Okazaki), a strange, pretty girl, approaches her, like a stalker, and turns out to have been just that. She claims fandom, but the real cause is more personal. There is also a subplot involving a handsome young man and online dating.

Kyoko also meets Anna (Sara Kurashima, looks older), an 18-year-old high school student under the care of her deceased mother’s best friend, whom Kyoko unwittingly learns is her half-sister. The delicacy, the beautiful landscapes and classic Japanese interiors, and the shy ladies had my attention and my admiration in the introductory scenes. But the overlong second half lost me. Besides that, the subplot, including an outrageous detail, felt unnecessary.

They all come together at a resort, and all turn out to be related and to have traumatic experiences with men in their lives - very much the theme these days.

Natsuko's 2019 debut feature, Jeux de Plage, reportedly is a homage to numerous French directors. It too is set at a resort, but this time girls are all holidaying together and there is a secret lesbian attraction revealed. It's divided into playfully named chapters whose additional homages to French cinema are only too obvious: episodes named (Le?) Weekend, La règle du jeu, Vivre sa vie, La femme douce, Drôle de drame, La poison, Les biches, L’amour en fuite, À nos amours, La drolesse , and La ronde.

It sounds like she was having fun. In Saga Saga things turn serious. Look behind the mask of any woman, the film suggests, and you will find trauma, and the neglect or abuse of a man. Gestures toward playfulness remain, in the games and deceits of Nahoko - but she becomes ashamed of her ploys and plays, and hides under an umbrella.

Maybe Jeux de Plage works better. One hopes Saga Saga is a sophomore slump and Natsuko's next film will be a success. Saga Saga lost me. I started getting uncomfortable with the acting - a very bad sign; and missing a score (there's almost none), not a very good sign either.

The Japanese title of the new film, Midori no zawameki, translates as "the green mist." The French influence may still be there, on the surface anyway, if this is an allusion to Éric Rohmer's celebrated 1986 film starring Marie Rivière, Le rayon vert. But there's no green ray in this movie, only the hope of uniting traumatized young women.

Saga Saga 緑のざわめき, 114 mins., no IMDb listing, was screened for this review as part of Japan Cuts, Jul. 26-Aug. 6, 2023, and showed Aug. 2, 2023 6:00 pm.

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