Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sundance ’12: About the Pink Sky

Izumi Kawashima is like the Japanese live action version of MTV’s Daria, except way more mordant. Indeed, she is down-right caustic at times, but in a sort of charming way. She will still has plenty of coming of age moments in store for her in Keiichi Kobayashi’s appealingly subversive About the Pink Sky (trailer here), which screens during the 2012 Sundance Film Festival in Park City.

A chance discovery of a wallet loaded with 300,000 Yen precipitates a series of ethical crises for Kawashima. Contemptuous of the lazy local patrolman, the compulsive newspaper reader researches the owner, Koki Sato, learning he is the son of a corrupt (in her judgment) politician. Considering it “dirty money,” she lends 200,000 to a middle-aged fishing acquaintance about to lose his business, who mysteriously disappears (for real) shortly thereafter.

Making the mistake of treating her friends, mean girl Hasumi (or Haruko depending on her mood) Ono and the hard-working Kaoru Mayuzumi, Kawashima finds herself potentially deeply in debt when they insist on returning the wallet to Sato. Not coincidentally, the assertive Ono is quite taken Sato’s picture. It turns out, Kawashima can handle him pretty easily, but his inconsistent stories confuse the innocent cynic.

Using largely neophyte actors, Kobayashi hits the jackpot with his talented and wildly charismatic young cast. Utterly credible and completely unaffected, they all look and sound like teenagers observed surreptitiously in real life, but can deliver deadpan zingers like seasoned pros. Quiet but electric, Ai Ikeda truly commands the screen as Kawashima, conveying both her keen intelligence and age-appropriate immaturity. We can tell she is smart, but not quite as smart as she thinks, which plays out in intriguing ways throughout the film.

Likewise, Ena Koshino is completely convincing as the bossy but fragile Ono, while Reiko Fujiwara is rather endearing as Mayuzumi, the weakest drawn character of the trio. However, Sky is more than mere teen angst. Visually arresting, its black-and-white cinematography is inspired by traditional Japanese ink painting. Yet, Kawashima and her friends would be interesting regardless of Kobayashi’s stylistic choices. Though it occasionally suggests comparisons to Lynch and Jarmusch, his film is never macabre or in any way unpleasant. Indeed, Sky is gentle in its eccentricity.

Don’t call Sky quirky. It is much more than that now dreaded indie cliché. Often very funny but also quite heartfelt, Sky is a wonderfully fresh and sharply written film with an unforgettable debut lead performance. A clear highlight at Sundance this year, it is enthusiastically recommended when it screens tomorrow (1/20), Saturday (1/21), Thursday (1/26), and Friday (1/27) in Park City, as well as this Sunday (1/22) in Salt Lake.