Saturday, July 11, 2015

Japan Cuts ’15: Her Granddaughter

Japanese cinema has always excelled at domestic dramas, with the Yasujiro Shimazu’s classic Shomin-geki films even predating the masterworks and masterpieces of Yasujiro Ozu. They would both probably find Tsugumi Dozono’s relationship with her grandmother’s former boyfriend somewhat unconventional, but not completely unimaginable. Things get May-Decemberish in Ryuichi Hiroki’s Her Granddaughter (trailer here), which screens as a selection of this year’s Japan Cuts, the Festival of New Japanese Film in New York.

It should be noted Kyoko Dozono looked more like Tsugumi’s mother than her grandmother. As a child, Tsugumi spent a fair amount of time in her artistically distressed country home, so she naturally retreats there after the funeral. Not only is she mourning Kyoko, she is also reeling from a disastrous love affair. However, her reverie is soon interrupted by Jun Kaieda, her grandmother’s former student and whatever. It seems she gave him a key to live in the annex, so he expects things to continue just the same with Tsugumi.

At first, Kaieda’s boorish and entitled behavior annoys Dozono (and just about anyone else who might be watching), but just as fall follows summer, they soon warm to each other. They even have a dry run at playing house when a distant relative abandons five year-old Makoto Tomioka on their doorstep.

Frankly, screenwriter Hiroshi Saito’s adaptation of Keiko Nishi’s manga way overdoes Kaieda’s high-handed arrogance in the first act. By the time they start falling for each other, we are ready for her to sic the sheriff on him. You just have to let the film restart in your head, because when it explores Kaieda’s past through the prism of Tomioka’s present woes and Dozono’s burgeoning attraction, it is quite sensitive and humanistic.

Nana Eikura and Etsushi Toyokawa develop some convincingly mature chemistry as Dozono and Kaieda, respectively. Mari Hamada and Yu Tokui also add a graceful human touch as Kaieda’s foster sister and brother. Even young Ruka Wakabayashi’s Tomioka eventually wins viewers over.

Her Granddaughter can be frustrating, but it is worth sticking with it, sort of like a lot of relationships in life. It is the kind of reassuring pastoral romance that extolls the pleasures and virtues of making the best of your circumstances. Recommended largely for its charismatic cast, Her Granddaughter screens tomorrow (7/12) at the Japan Society, as part of the 2015 Japan Cuts.