Thursday, July 12, 2012

Japan Cuts ’12 & NYAFF ’12: Chips

After the devastating 2011 earthquake, the city of Sendai could use something to cheer about.  An unassuming burglar could too.  He has a girlfriend considerably out of his league and a mentor who cares about him in his own gruff fashion, but he has a lot of issues gnawing at him.  However, redemption may yet arrive through the most unlikeliest of agencies in Yoshihiro Nakamura’s graceful knockout punch of a film, Potechi (Chips), the official closing film of the 2012 New YorkAsian Film Festival, co-presented with the 2012 edition of Japan Cuts: The NewYork Festival of Contemporary Japanese Cinema (trailer here).

Tadashi Imamura dresses like a gasman, but it is just a front.  He works pretty steadily though, since the ringleader (a.k.a. “the CEO”) of a burglary ring has taken a shine to him.  Earnest to a fault, the young thief is pretty good at his job, having been trained by one of the best—the glacially stoic Kurosawa.  Breaking-and-entering has been good to Imamura.  Through a strange set of circumstances, a job led to his relationship with the attractive Wakaba.  However, Imamura gets an odd sensation of déjà vu when he drags his indulgent girlfriend on a fateful break-in.

Imamura did not just happen to be in a certain baseball player’s apartment when the phone rings.  Ozaki has long been his sports idol.  The player used to be Sendai’s local hero during his high school years, but for several seasons he has been stuck riding the pine for the local pro franchise.  Imamura still has faith though, feeling a certain connection to the player.  As it happens, he and Ozaki share the same birth date.

Potechi (or Chips depending on which website you visit) is driven by a confluence of coincidences, yet Nakamura never bashes the audience over the head with them.  Instead, he allows them to quietly accumulate over time.  What could have been heavy as an anvil is quite subtle and beguiling, until Nakamura dexterously lowers the climatic emotional boom.

As the felonious Obiwan figure, Nao Ohmori (still best known as Ichi the Killer) displays super-heroic powers of understatement, dominating his scenes with his uber-gravitas.  Still, it is Gaku Hamada who truly sets the tenor of the film as Imamura with a performance so sincere, it sort of hurts.  Fumino Kimura’s spirited Wakaba keeps the proceedings nicely grounded, while Nakamura himself steals a few scenes as the CEO.

Potechi (Chips) is a fantastic little film, but the sixty-eight minute running time might make it difficult for some fests to program (fyi, stay for the stinger during the closing credits).  Fortunately, Japan Cuts and NYAFF will screen anything they jolly well feel like, which is why they rock.  In an elliptical way, it is a film about healing that earns its payoff fair and square.  Very highly recommended, Potechi (Chips) screens this Sunday (7/15) as the 2012 NYAFF closes and the 2012 Japan Cuts continues with its independent selections.