We all know first of all, that Tadanobu Asano is like a living legend in Japan. OH! I’m also in love with him. From afar. From Texas. So there’s that. Yet that has nothing to do with his outrageously subdued performance in this film or any of the others less outrageous and or subdued. You may remember him from the likes of Ichi: The Killer (Ichi) or Café Lumiere or from lesser known exploits such as Electric Dragon 80,000 Volts. His face soft and chiseled in the moonlight or in this case, behind a sound mixing booth. He plays Ayano, a secondary character really but one that most aptly describes the Harano family, a troupe of artists and psychotherapists and soon to be artists and psychotherapists. Ayano comes back to visit from Tokyo to hang, chill and say nothing much but mostly to think about POSSIBLY telling the girl he had it so bad for back in the day how over her he is. He is sooo over her. Just FYI. He travels from Tokyo and tells her this upfront and as she looks down on her engagement and wedding rings, there is the soft hum and sigh of cicadas in the back ground. It’s summer time after all.
More central to the story is recently pubescent Hajime. A teen on the waning end of his growth spurt, he is on the waxing end of his love for girls. Specifically those possessing intelligence, beauty and particularly, a skill at mastering the game of GO (basically Asian Chess). So, good taste right?! Yet poor Hajime. As we learn from the incredible opening sequence, Hajime suffers the peculiar malady of being a shy wallflower and as he races after a train on which departs his previous love, of which he never spoke a single word to, he curses himself and his tragic shyness. As the train departs emotionally, it metaphysically leaves a whole as it exits his head…and his heart. However, with the new girl who blows into town and the new found confidence of being something of a GO phenom, will he overcome himself and finally speak to this one?
Next we have Hajime’s little sister Sachiko, a wizened and over-it-all six year old plagued mercilessly by a giant version of herself who silently watches her every move. Sachiko, apparently also plagued by the family curse of self-willed silence, never lets on of this doppelganger. She instead practices day and night on a set of high bars hoping that once she swings all the way around, the giant Sachiko will disappear for good. She heard this in a story once and knows it to be factual.
Then there is grandpa, Akira. Akira lives in the magical world of zip and zim. Of little, green people, samurai’s, costuming and spontaneous song and dance. He marches to the beat of the silver tunning fork he carries in his pocket, ever aware of the need for occasional anime posturing and villain hunting. He himself was a revered anime artist and helps his grand-daughter (Hajime and Sachiko’s mom) reinvent her career as he poses for her new animation work. Akira doesn’t need this world. Akira lives in his own.
The film doesn’t unfold, it transpires. For those that love the sweet patient waters descriptive of comedic, contemplative Japanese cinema, you will be richly rewarded with treasure beyond your wildest dreams. If I speak in hyperbole it is only because that is the language of this film. Everything is everything and nothing is nothing. The cinematography itself, real or imagined, allegorical or realistic is breathtaking as is the simplicity of the entire story. The ending of the film is as all things should end in the summer on a quiet evening surrounded by hills and sky and family and a giant Sunflower.