Friday, July 10, 2015

Japan Cuts ’15: And the Mud Ship Sails Away

Takashi Hirayama’s long term plan largely consists of cashing his dole checks and playing pachinko. It is pretty pathetic, but he doesn’t care. Still, the withering disapproval of the half-sister he never knew he had does not sit well with the slacker’s slacker in Hirobumi Watanabe’s And the Mud Ship Sails Away (trailer here), which screens during Japan Cuts 2015, the Festival of New Japanese Film in New York.

Hirayama basically thinks the world owes him a living and he is not about to let anyone convince him otherwise. Somehow, he survives in a state of listless entitlement, while sort of taking care of his sweet and somewhat blissfully out of it grandmother. Out of the blue, Yuka turns up in Tochigi, looking for their dead father. Apparently, she was his Tokyo love child. Not surprisingly, Hirayama and the teenager do not get on, at least not right away. Yet, she continues to visit, out of respect for Granny and a desire to escape her even worse home life in Tokyo.

Frankly, Hirayama could use someone like the calls-it-like-she-sees-it Yuka. Her self-destructive tendencies also start to bring out his previously dormant big brothering instincts. They still fight like cats and dogs, largely out of boredom. However, when Hirayama finally decides to take work, he makes the mother of all bad decisions, agreeing to be a drug mule swallowing bags of heroin in Thailand.

Mud’s first two thirds are rather entertaining in a drily amusing kind of way. However, the hallucinatory concluding act is a lot of sound and fury, but it never really goes anywhere. It is also a major downer when you think about it, because it implies some of the goods inside Hirayama broke open, which is a potential lethal situation.

As Hirayama, Kiyohiko Shibukawa is remarkably uncharismatic and unimpressive, thereby serving the film quite well. In contrast, Ayasa Takahashi nicely expresses the energy and angst of youth. Watanabe’s real life, ninety-six year-old grandmother Misao Hirayama is also a warm, cherubically charming presence. It is a bit of a shame she and Takahashi really have nothing to do in the final twenty minutes or so.

Watanabe’s fusion of extreme deadpan and off-the-wall trippiness is bound to win over a cult following, but the former is much more interesting than the latter. In fact, it is enough to recommend And the Mud Ship Sails Away to fans of full contact sarcasm. It screens tomorrow (7/11) at the Japan Society, as part of this year’s Japan Cuts.