Heaven's Story ヘヴンズ・ストーリー
2010, colour, 1.85:1, 278 mins
Directed by Zeze Takahisa (瀬々敬久)
By Derek Elley
Fri, 04 February 2011, 22:57 PM (HKT)
Epic, multi-character tale of forgiveness vs. revenge has its moments. Festivals, and some niche ancillary potential.
Takahagi, Ibaraki prefecture, Japan, the present day. The Summer Sky and Pee: Eight-year-old Ogawa Sato (Honda Kana) almost drowns when some other kids push her in the water but is rescued by her aunt Mina (Watanabe Makiko), who has been looking after her since her parents and elder sister were murdered by a psychopath who then committed suicide. The traumatised Sato goes to live with her widowed grandfather (Emoto Akira). En route she sees a TV news report about a man, Sato Tomoki (Hasegawa Tomoharu), who has sworn to kill Aikawa Mitsuo (Oshinari Shugo), the young murderer of his wife and daughter. This gives her a proxy sense of hope and revenge. Cherry Blossom and a Snowman: Kaijima Michio (Murakami Jun), a former policeman who resiged after accidentally shooting someone dead, runs an internet-based business as a professional hit man. His latest assignment is to murder Hada (Sato Koichi), on the orders of Hada's wife, and he tracks him down in Hada's hometown, a now-abandoned mining community. Raindrops and Rock: Tomoki, working as a locksmith, gets to know Tae (Nahana), a partially deaf singer with a rock group that dislikes her. The two bond over their mutual pain. A Boat, a Bike and a Cicada Skin: Sato, now 16 (Tsuruoka Moeki), returns to Takahagi, where she borrows the bike of Haruki (Kurihara Kenichi), Michio's young delinquent son. She seeks out Tomoki, now happily married to Tae, with whom he has a daughter, Yuka. Sato asks him why he never fulfilled his promise to kill Mitsuo. Feeling guilty, Tomoki apologises and leaves with her to find Mitsuo. A Fallen Leaf and Dolls: Lonely, middle-aged doll-maker Terashima Kyoko (Yamasaki Hato) has learnt she has Alzheimer's and will eventually die. She becomes fascinated by the case of Mitsuo and starts writing letters to him in prison. After being legally adopted by Kyoko, Mitsuo is freed and looks after her. Christmas Presents: Tomoki meets trashy Kana (Eguchi Noriko), 25, the daughter of the man he accidentally killed, and to whom he has been sending money ever since. Meanwhile, Tomoki confronts Mitsuo one night in the street but Mitsuo flees. The Closest Town to Heaven. Part 1: Revenge: Mitsuo takes the ailing Kyoko, now in a wheelchair, to where she grew up - the same abandoned mining town where Hada was born. They are followed by Tomoki and Sato, who have revenge on their minds. The Closest Town to Heaven. Part 2: Avenging the Avenger: Now abandoned by the half-crazed Tomoki, Tae leaves home with Yuka. Kana, heavily pregnant and in need of money, comes looking for Michio but Haruki tells her he's dead. The fates of Mitsuo, Kana and Tomoki collide. Heaven's Story: Sato achieves closure.
Wearing its four-hours-and-38-minutes length like a badge of pride, Heaven's Story ヘヴンズ・ストーリー (2010) is another of those epic, multi-character mixtures of murder, obsessiveness and redemption that only the Japanese are able to pull off. Though director ZEZE Takahisa 瀬々敬久 has a distinguished career as a "pink" (softcore porn) film-maker behind him, Heaven is actually sex-free and babe-lite: Zeze's non-"pink" movies (Dog Star ＤＯＧ ＳＴＡＲ (2001), Moon Child ＭＯＯＮ ＣＨＩＬＤ (2003)) have never shown much interest in this branch of Japanese popular culture. In short, though it has its fair share of loony elements (a nice, reasonable contract killer; an obsessive Alzheimer's victim; people generally behaving badly), Heaven is far from being the wacky, extreme ride of a life-changing movie like SONO Sion 園子温's Love Exposure 愛のむきだし (2008), whose running-time it bests by a good half-hour.
Aside from lacking Sono's sheer crazed imagination, Zeze is a much more sober film-maker: for a start, the movie signally lacks any operatic use of music to lift the individual sequences into the realm of the sublime. Nevertheless, in SATO Aki 佐藤有記's script, which cleverly interlocks most of its characters across an eight-year period, he does have a good structure which keeps the audience guessing enough to sustain most of the running time. At the two-and-a-half-hour mark, in the section Christmas Presents, there's a real sense of the dramatic elements finally coming together, as the central character Sato sees her desire for closure over a childhood trauma finally taking shape. The problem is that, despite some eventual action, the subsequent two hours don't really deliver on an expected level. The editing remains lax and the love-death-rebirth conclusion seems trite for a movie of this scope and ambition. At a much tighter three hours, Heaven's Story would be a much better movie.
However, Zeze has assembled a to-die-for-cast, stuffed with established names (WATANABE Makiko 渡辺真起子, singer YAMASAKI Hako 山崎ハコ) veteran character actors (SUGATA Shun 菅田俊, EMOTO Akira 柄本明) and younger players who raise the undertaking way above the level of an average Japanese indie. Not much older than the 16-year-old she plays, TSURUOKA Moeki 寉岡萌希 (Sisterhood 地球でたったふたり (2007)) gives Sato an inner stillness to her obsessive character that's nicely creepy, while older players like MURAKAMI Jun 村上淳 (as the all-business contract killer) and SATO Koichi 佐藤浩市 (as one of his victims) bring some welcome black comedy to the table. On the weaker side are TV actor HASEGAWA Tomoharu 長谷川朝晴 as Sato's proxy avenger and OSHINARI Shugo 忍成修吾 (All About Lily Chou-chou リリイシュシュのすべて (2001)) as the object of their revenge, further robbing the climax of dramatic power.
Though shot on HD, the film looks practically spotless in its transfer to 35mm, and the three directors of photography exploit all the seasons to the full. Shooting took place in five batches of about 10 days each, during a year-and-a-half period starting in 2008.
ContactSales: Stance, Tokyo (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Premiere: PIA Film Festival, Tokyo, 23 Jul 2010. Theatrical release: Japan, 2 Oct 2010.
Presented by Stance. Produced by Heaven's Project. Executive producers: Hayashi Zuiho, Okada Hiroshi, Kazufumi Yoshimura, Suda Yuichi, Kobayashi Yoichi. Producers: Asano Hirotaka, Asakura Daisuke, Sakaguchi Kazunao.
Script: Sato Aki. Photography: Nabeshima Atsuhiro, Saito Koichi, Hanamura Yasushi. Editing: Imai Toshihiro. Music: Yasukawa Goro. Singer: Tenkö. Art direction: Nonogaki Satoshi, Tanaka Koji, Kanabayashi Takeshi. Sound: Hwang Yeong-chang, Takada Shinya, Suzuki Akihiko.
Cast: Tsuruoka Moeki (Ogawa Sato), Hasegawa Tomoharu (Sato Tomoki, the locksmith), Oshinari Shugo (Aikawa Mitsuo, the young murderer), Murakami Jun (Kaijima Michio, the ex-policeman), Yamasaki Hako (Terashima Kyoko, the Alzheimer's victim), Nahana (Tae, the singer), Kurihara Kenichi (Kaijima Haruki, Michio's son), Eguchi Noriko (Kana, the daughter of Kaijima's victim), Oshima Hako (Yohota Naoko), Fukikoshi Mitsuru (Ogawa Mamoru, Sato's father), Kataoka Reiko (Sato's mother), Shimada Kyusaku (Aikawa Michio's lawyer), Sugata Shun (Suzuki, the unemployed salaryman), Mitsuishi Ken (Shioya), Tsuda Kanji (Kuroda), Negishi Toshie (Chiho), Watanabe Makiko (Mina), Nagasawa Nao (nurse), Honda Kana (Sato, aged 8), Sato Koichi (Hada), Emoto Akira (Soichi, Sato's grandfather).