ContactSales: PIA Film Festival (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Premiere: PIA Film Festival, Tokyo, 30 Jul 2009. Theatrical release: Japan, 1 May 2010.
Presented by PIA Film Festival Partners (PIA, Tokyo Broadcasting System, Tokyo FM Broadcasting, Imagica, Avex Entertainment, USEN) (JP). Producer: Amano Mayumi.
Script: Ishii Yuya. Photography: Okimura Yukihiro. Editing: Takahashi Koichi. Music: Imamura Samon. Song: Imamura Samon. Lyrics: Nomura Chiaki. Art direction: Ozeki Tatsuo. Costumes: Baba Kyoko. Sound: Kato Hirokazu, Ochi Mika.
Cast: Mitsushima Hikari (Kimura Sawako), Endo Masashi (Arai Kenichi), Aihara Kira (Arai Kayoko, Kenichi's daughter), Namiki Shiro (Takagi Masaki), Shiga Kotaro (Kimura Tadao, Sawako's father), Iwamatsu Ryo (Kimura Nobuo, Sawako's uncle), Inagawa Miyoko (Shiota Toshiko), Inomata Toshiaki (Shiota Junzo), Suzuki Natsumi (Muraoka Tomomi, Sawako's childhood friend), Sugama Isamu (Endo Susumu), Makino Emi (Saito Kyoko), Kudo Tokiko (Mrs. Tsukishima), Yasumuro Makiko (Mrs. Sugiyama), Shinohe Keiko (Mrs. Nakajima), Yoshino Yoshiko (Mrs. Eguchi), Meguro Maki (colonic irrigation nurse), Morioka Ryu (Kawakami Yoshio, Sawako's first boyfriend), Hirose Tomomi (girl), Yamauchi Nao (Sayuri), Maruyama Akie (Motoka), Shiomi Satoshi (doctor), Uchibori Yoshiyuki [billed as: Tontoroton] (nursery school teacher).
Sawako Decides 川の底からこんにちは
Contemporary black comedy-drama
2009, colour, 1.85:1, 111 mins
Directed by Ishii Yuya (石井裕也)
By Derek Elley
Sat, 31 July 2010, 03:34 AM (HKT)
Deliciously played, nihilistic deadpan comedy with a spot-on central performance by actress Mitsushima Hikari. Modest theatrical potential beyond festivals and niche TV.
Tokyo, the present day. Kimura Sawoko (Mitsushima Hikari), 23, is in her fifth year in the big city, in her fifth part-time job and with her fifth boyfriend since abruptly leaving her hometown after finishing high school. A designer at the same toy company where Sawoko has a menial office job, Arai Kenichi (Endo Masashi) is divorced with a four-year-old daughter, Kayoko (Aihara Kira), who hardly speaks. He keeps pressing Sawoko to get married but she considers him "only average" and dislikes children. Sawoko's uncle, Nobuo (Iwamatsu Ryo), keeps phoning her to return home, as her father Tadao (Shiga Kotaro) is dying from cirrhosis of the liver and wants her, as the sole heir, to take over his freshwater clam packing company, Kimura Fisheries. When Kenichi is sacked and, as an eco-freak, decides to bring up his daughter "in the wilderness", he finally persuades Sawoko to return home and take him and Kayoko along. The trio arrive in the Pacific coast town of Kawaminami, southeast Japan, where Sawoko is derided by the womenfolk for "eloping" five years ago with Yoshio (Morioka Ryu), her school's tennis club captain. Chronically indecisive, Sawoko is forced to decide what she wants to do with the company, Kenichi, and her whole life.
All the promise that indie maverick ISHII Yuya 石井裕也, 27, has so far shown in films like Bare-assed Japan 剥き出しにっぽん (2006) (his graduation film at Osaka University of Arts 大阪芸術大学) and Girl Sparks ガール・スパークス (2007) come deliciously to fruition in Sawako Decides 川の底からこんにちは (2009), his first bona fide commercial feature. Way more organised and with less desire simply to shock, the movie still retains his gift for deadpan comedy and dealing with Big Issues like personal identity and mixed-up contemporary society in an easily digestible way. Professionally cast, and cleanly shot on Super-16, this is a movie that catapults Ishii into a different league altogether.
Under its conventional-looking front, and straight-faced playing, it's a decidedly nihilistic picture: an ode to the "little people" with no major aspirations who keep the mighty wheels of Japan's paternalistic economy ticking over. Except that in Sawako Decides, the economy is sputtering under the global economic recession and everyone is depressed about the future — except Sawako. Though she's been dumped by numerous boyfriends, admits she has no special dreams, and describes herself as a "sub-middling woman", she's far more grounded than her gossipy workmates. Her favourites phrases are "sorry" and "it can't be helped", and she has the habit — which accounts for some of the film's funniest moments — of saying exactly what she thinks, quietly and as a matter of course.
Ishii has created a wonderful character, and found just the right actress to play it: MITSUSHIMA Hikari 満島ひかり, now 24, who had a small role as Light's younger sister in the Death Note デスノート (2006) films but who sprang to fame as the arse-kicking, line-crossing Yoko in SONO Sion 園子温's Love Exposure 愛のむきだし (2008) and has followed it with interesting choices like ANDO Momoko 安藤モモ子's lesbian romance Kakera: A Piece of Our Life カケラ (2009). Mitsushima's ability, so well showcased in Love Exposure, to switch from generic sexy-cute to pure, screaming anarchy is held in reserve here, though the threat is always there. Her quiet staccato delivery even of a simple word like "what?" — when questioning a statement that shouldn't even be questioned under Japanese rules — keeps the film's low-key, anti-establishment tone bubbling throughout, all the more so as, to Sawako, it's just a natural response. When the script finally lets the break off her character in the final third — starting with a revolutionary company anthem that's the film's Japanese title (Hello from the Bottom of the River) — the change has been well signposted by both Ishii's script and Mitsushima's beautifully judged performance.
She's surrounded by a strong cast of older actors, from the grumpy, straight-talking women at the struggling clam packing firm to SHIGA Kotaro 志賀廣太郎 as her loving father, perpetually frustrated at his daughter's weirdly independent spirit but secretly proud he's produced a chip off his hard-drinking, hard-womanising block.