Thursday, July 18, 2013

Japan Cuts ’13: I Have to Buy New Shoes

A young photographer finds romance where he least expects it: Paris.  Sure, it is the City of Lights, but he assumed his short sight-seeing trip would only entail some brotherly chaperoning.  Instead, he spends some ambiguous quality time with an attractive older Japanese woman in Eriko Kitagawa’s I Have to Buy New Shoes (trailer here), which screens tonight as part of the 2013 Japan Cuts: The New York Festival of Contemporary Japanese Cinema.

Sen Yagami only came to Paris at the insistence of his younger sister, Suzume.  However, she contrives a way to ditch her indulgent brother along the bank of the Seine before they even reach their hotel.  She has plans of her own, involving her long-distance artist boyfriend.  This is rather inconvenient for Yagami, since he does not even have their hotel information.  Fortunately, a broken heel precipitates a meet-cute with expat magazine editor Aoi Teshigahara, at the expense of his ground-up passport.

Initially, Teshigahara helps him navigate Paris as a friendly fellow countryman abroad, but a mutual attraction slowly grows between them.  Surprised and confused by their feelings, Teshigahra and Yagami engage in a halting courtship dance that is refreshingly chaste compared to most films.  Nonetheless, Yagami will not see much of his hotel, wherever it might be.

Following in the tradition of Brief Encounter, Shoes has already been widely compared to Linklater’s Before trilogy as well as the 1990’s Japanese television work of Kitagawa and producer Shunji Iwai.  Yet, this is a much quieter film, saying more with a look than a page self-consciously clever dialogue.  The title may sound like chic lit, but Kitagawa maintains a vibe of mature sadness that is anything but.

It is impossible to overstate what Miho Nakayama brings to the film as Teshigahara.  A long time Paris resident herself, she is a smart, sophisticated, and beautiful presence throughout the film.  Yet, when she lowers the dramatic boom, it is simply devastating.  Poor Osamu Mukai’s Yagami is just no match for her, even though he has some nice moments expressing the younger man’s very real disappointments in life.  He is no boy toy, not by any stretch.  Mirei Kiritani also brings unexpected depth to seemingly coquettish Suzume late in the third act.

Just about every scene of Shoes has a subtle surprise, yet invariably rings true.  It is a classy package, capitalizing on the Parisian backdrops and sparingly incorporating Ryûichi Sakamoto’s evocative piano themes in just the right moments.  Above all else, it is a stunning showcase for Nakayama that would elevate her to the absolute top tier of international stardom in a more just world.  Very highly recommended for those who appreciate intelligent, grown-up relationship films, I Have To Buy New Shows screens tonight (7/18) as this year’s Japan Cuts continues at the Japan Society.