Saturday, September 02, 2017

JFFSF ’17: My Dad and Mr. Ito

Ozu films might look gloriously old fashioned, but it is still relatively commonplace for three generations to live under the same roof in Japan. Such will be the case when thirtysomething Aya Yamanaka reluctantly allows her seventy-something father to move in on short notice. Much to Old Man Yamanaka’s surprise, the third generation will be represented by her fifty-something boyfriend, Yasaki Ito. Things are sure to get awkward, but the real issues of their father-daughter relationship predate their current living conditions in Yuki Tanada’s My Dad and Mr. Ito (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Japanese Film Festival of San Francisco.

Ito-san is an older, goofy cat, who is always called Ito-san, sort of like Tora-san, except he actually got the girl. Yamanaka met Ito-san when they were both working at a ghastly convenience store. For reasons she still has trouble putting into words, Aya discovered she enjoyed his company. He now works as a part-time school maintenance man is she is full-time at a bookstore. They do not have loads of money, but they were happier than most people.

In contrast, old Yamanaka pushed his daughter-in-law to the brink of a nervous breakdown. He and his son eventually agreed he would move in with Aya before they knew Ito-san existed. Yet, despite his trepidations, Ito-san probably gets along with the Yamanaka patriarch better than the grown siblings. This shaggy-looking quinquagenarian might be a little eccentric, but he is highly perceptive and emotionally mature, so he subtly pushes Yamanaka and her brother to work out their issues with their father while they still can.

The Japanese film industry invented the yakuza and kaiju movies, but they still hold an overwhelming comparative and competitive advantage when it comes to domestic dramas. It started with Yasujiro Ozu and Yasujiro Shimazu, continued through the prolific output of Yoji Yamada and bubbles up here once again. Hinako Nakazawa’s adaptation of Hisako Kurosawa’s novel is wistfully sentimental at times, but it is also relentlessly honest and grounded. Life is messy in this film, so if you can get through it yourself and do little things here and there to help other get by, you are kind of heroic, like Ito-san.

Lily Franky never breaks a sweat exercising his acting muscles, but he is still terrific as Ito-san. It is a deceptively effortless performance that wears well over time. Likewise, he and Juri Ueno forge the laidback chemistry of not particularly passionate lovers, who are comfortable as a couple and more relaxed in their own skins when they are together. Ueno is never flashy, but she makes Aya a quietly resilient force to be reckoned with. Tatsuya Fuji is definitely playing a classic grouchy grandpa, but he keeps the shtick dialed down to virtually nil.

This film would probably be unwatchable if it were produced in Hollywood, but its Japanese sensibilities make it wonderfully graceful and wise. It is all very calm and understated, yet it constantly offers up small surprises, never quite zigging how we expect it to zag. Highly recommended, My Dad and Mr. Ito screens this coming Thursday (9/7), as part of this year’s JFFSF.