Haru's Journey 春との旅
2010, colour, 1.85, 132 mins
Directed by Kobayashi Masahiro (小林政広)
By Derek Elley
Tue, 25 January 2011, 18:01 PM (HKT)
Richly rewarding odd-couple road movie pairing the legendary Nakadai Tatsuya and young actress Tokunaga Eri. Beyond festivals, some niche theatrical potential, plus ancillary.
Mashike, west Hokkaido, Japan, the present day. Nineteen-year-old Haru (Tokunaga Eri) has lived with her grumpy grandfather Nakai Tadao (Nakadai Tatsuya), a retired herring fisherman, ever since the death of her mother five years ago; but when she loses her catering job after a local school closes, she decides to leave remote Hokkaido and look for work down in Tokyo. Tadao is not pleased but agrees to accompany her on a journey to his various siblings to see if they will take him in. First stop is Tadao's elder brother Shigeo (Otaki Hideji) in Shishiorekarakuwa on the mainland; but the two end up arguing as usual. Tadao's wastrel youngest brother Yukio is currently in prison, while his widowed elder sister Shigeko (Awashima Chikage) offers a job at her small hotel to Haru but refuses to give space to Tadao, whom she considers selfish and lazy. In Sendai, Tadao and Haru track down his younger brother, Michio (Emoto Akira), who bawls him out for never visiting him all these years. Haru, meanwhile, has decided to stay with Tadao rather than move to Tokyo. But before they go back to Mashike, she asks to visit her long-lost father, Shinichi (Kagawa Teruyuki), whom she never knew.
The experience of working with more commercial entities — for the first time in his doggedly indie career — pays major dividends for writer-director KOBAYASHI Masahiro 小林政広 in Haru's Journey 春との旅 (2010), a beautifully played and quietly touching movie that seems light years away from downbeat festival fare like The Man Walking on Snow 歩く、人 (2001) and Bashing バッシング (2005), and especially his unwatchable recent works like The Rebirth 愛の予感 (2007) and Where Are You? ワカラナイ (2008). (Interestingly, Haru went straight into release in Japan, rather than being launched via European festivals that championed him in the past.) Featuring several of his regular actors, but this time headlined by the legendary NAKADAI Tatsuya 仲代達矢 and up-and-coming TOKUNAGA Eri 徳永えり as a wonderfully combative grandfather/granddaughter odd couple, the film is an engaging charmer from its first to last frame.
Starting literally in the middle of an argument, as Nakadai's grumpy retired fisherman and Tokunaga's exasperated granddaughter hit the road from his remote Hokkaido cottage, Haru begins with the viewer knowing nothing about the pair (even down to what they were arguing about) and ends with them being as familiar to the audience as two family members. Through a series of meetings with the old fisherman's dispersed siblings, as he asks for a place to spend his remaining years, Tadao's fraught family history gradually emerges: his elder brother immediately starts quarrelling with him, his sister lectures him (for his own good, she stresses) on his selfishness, and a younger brother launches into a blistering verbal attack on how he's disregarded his family for decades. Haru's own background also emerges: the suicide of her mother that brought her to stay with her granddad, and the absence of a father figure in her life. On paper, this all sounds as depressing as Kobayashi's other movies, but is in fact played with warmth and humour, as the odd couple hobble their way south on little money and even less family charity.
Where many of Kobayashi's films have seemed to have little in the way of dialogue or structure, Haru has plenty of both; and though he's used the road-movie format before, this time it fulfils a real function and has a genuinely developed emotional arc. Now pushing 80, Nakadai still has a forceful screen presence, not playing the elderly Tadao for easy sympathy but hooking the viewer even more as a result. Tokunaga, who played KITANO Takeshi 北野武's daughter in Achilles and the Tortoise アキレスと亀 (2008), grunges down her natural cuteness into a plain, stocky-looking 19-year-old, and more than holds her own opposite the veteran star. The sight of the two characters shuffling along — Tadao with a limp and Haru like a bow-legged Japanese peasant, old before her time — is a memorable screen image.
The casting for each encounter is spot-on, with AWASHIMA Chikage 淡島千景 especially good as Tadao's straight-talking sister who brings some welcome lightness to the middle of the picture. The only character who rings a little false is TODA Nao 戸田菜穂's young stepmother, though her scene with Nakadai brings out one of the latter's most moving moments. Working for the first time with Kobayashi, d.p. TAKAMA Kenji 高間賢治 discreetly plays up the varied settings for each encounter, while SAKUMA Junpei 佐久間順平's gently melancholic score adds warmth. The two-hour-plus running time never drags, though the movie would have even better with an open end rather than its final scene on a train.
ContactSales: T-Joy, Tokyo (email@example.com)
Theatrical release: Japan, 22 May 2010.
Presented by Haru To No Tabi Film Partners (Mainichi Newspapers, Hokkaido Shinbun Press, Asmik Ace Entertainment, Laterna, Monkey Town Productions, Toei Video) (JP). Produced by Laterna (JP), Monkey Town Productions (JP). Executive producer: Yoda Naoshi. Producers: Kii Muneyuki, Kobayashi Naoko.
Script: Kobayashi Masahiro. Photography: Takama Kenji. Editing: Kaneko Naoki. Music: Sakuma Junpei. Art direction: Kawase Junya. Costumes: Miyamoto Masae. Sound: Fukuda Shin.
Cast: Nakadai Tatsuya (Nakai Tadao), Tokunaga Eri (Haru), Otaki Hideji (Shigeo, Tadao's elder brother), Sugai Kin (Keiko, Shigeo's wife), Kobayashi Kaoru (Kinoshita, the sailor), Tanaka Yuko (Shimizu Aiko), Awashima Chikage (Shigeko, Tadao's elder sister), Emoto Akira (Michio, Tadao's younger brother), Miho Jun (Akiko, Michio's wife), Toda Naho (Nobuko, Haru's stepmother), Kagawa Teruyuki (Shinichi, Haru's father), Yamamoto Tetsuya, Nagao Nana.