Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sweet Bean

Eiga Sai
Japanese Film Festival
Cinema 2, Shang Cineplex

Three completely different characters come together in this deeply poignant film about solitude, discrimination, second chances and redemption.

Everyday it is the same routine for a lonely baker who sells dorayaki which are Japanese mini pancakes with red bean paste. He wakes up really early to prepare the ingredients and sells them in a small street side shop. His clients are mostly students and local folks within the community.

One day an old woman approaches him to ask if he needed help and told him she was willing to work. At first, he refuses as his funds are limited. Yet each morning she persisted until he agreed and told her he can't really pay her much. 

The business though pick up when the old lady teaches him to make the red bean paste from scratch. It turns out to be a major process as it involves choosing the correct sizes of the red beans, cooking them at low heat, then letting it set for several hours before it is ready to be put inside the mini pancakes. 

A tedious and complicated procedure but it pays off as word of mouth spreads through the community and long queues are formed outside of his tiny shop every day. He also decides to let a young student help him out as he couldn't do everything with the brisk sales of his dorayaki.  

In between the cooking and the sales, the baker slowly opens up about his troubled past to the old lady who herself has been hiding a serious ailment. Their bond start to get stronger but alas it was not meant to last as an incident prompts the old lady to stop 'working' at the shop.

It is one of the most beautiful and sentimentally touching films I have ever seen in my entire 48 years of existence. It has a simple setting with a typical Japanese small town with its cherry blossoms trees and pristine streets. The plot unfolds at a slow yet steady pace. Yet with every scene, a myriad of emotions will hit you from happiness to sadness and everything else in between. The three main characters essay their roles with much depth and dimension without resorting to special effects but relying merely on their sheer intense acting skills.

Be prepared to reach for you hankies or tissues or whatever you can as I am sure your tears will flow down your face. No shame in that, we are just sentimental human beings, after all.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

What a Wonderful Family!

Eiga Sai
Japanese Film Festival
Cinema 2, Shang Cineplex

This comedy tackles the various reactions/effects stemming from the announcement of the matriarch of the family that she wants a divorce from her husband of almost 50 years.  A statement which she uttered when her recently retired husband asked her late in the evening what she wanted for her birthday given that he totally forgot she turned a year older.

Divorce is a serious matter for any couple but this film presents us with a lighthearted and funny scenario for all those affected by the impending uncoupling of a married couple in the twilight of their years. Their grown children with families of their own, the neighbors even the whole community is abuzz with the news. 

I guess it is common in Japanese society for the woman to take a back seat to her husband. To attend to his every need, prepare his meals, do his laundry aside from taking care of the household and rearing children. 

I read that divorce among older Japanese couples is also a growing trend. Women who have devoted their lives towards caring for their families suddenly want their freedom from their tedious chores once their children have families of their own and move out of the ancestral home. 

They find themselves stuck in a loveless marriage with a person with whom they have grown apart from, find they have nothing in common anymore and want to go seek greener pastures. It doesn't necessarily mean that they will go have relationships with other men. It might simply mean that they can do whatever they want without the restrictions imposed upon them.  It must be liberating to finally pursue their interests, their suppressed hobbies and enroll in a new craft like painting or creative writing. Anything that would give their self esteem a much needed boost.

Alright so I got carried away hehe.  Back to the film, the entire cast is believable in their portrayal of the different family members. The setting is a middle class residential area with local flavors like a neighborhood bar serving its loyal customers sake and ramen. Plot is filled with comedic scenes, crazy loud family gatherings amidst a quaint locale.  As to whether they do get a divorce, well you have to wait till the conclusion and then form your own opinion as to whether it was the right or wrong decision. Heh!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Long Excuse

Eiga Sai
Japanese Film Festival
Cinema 2,  Shang Cineplex

Sachio was once a successful author but a writer's block now impedes his career. His supportive wife suddenly dies in a bus accident yet Sachio has difficulty expressing his grief. He keeps telling himself he didn't really love his wife so a tearful farewell won't really do him good. Until he meets widower Yoichi whose wife was the best friend of Sachio's wife. She also perished in the accident and leaves behind 2 small children. Sachio 'volunteers' to look after the two kids as their truck driver father is mostly away working. 

For a man who has no parental skills as they decided not to have children, Sachio does pretty good at being a father figure to the kids. He is certainly out of his very luxurious comfort zone yet slowly and surely manages to adjust to this new lifestyle. The two kids are adept at surviving on their own but welcome Sachio into their household like he is a long lost uncle.

Sachio finds himself being more compassionate as he acts as their guardian. In his aim to be more helpful, he discovers his likable side, someone who is more patient, more tolerant than his former selfish self. In so doing, he learns to deal with his grief, be more expressive and overall be a more humane human being.

The Long Excuse offers a good examination into the complexities of a well developed character whose life changes as he deals with 'parenthood', bereavement and in the process he finally finds his true meaning in life.

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