Monday, July 11, 2016

Japan Cuts ’16: Mohican Comes Home

Judging from the films Japan Cuts programs, Japan must be the only country where you can still find punk rockers carrying the black flag. Of course, it is getting harder and harder. Eikichi Tamura is about ready to call it quits, but first he must handle family business in Shuichi Okita’s Mohican Comes Home (trailer here), the opening night selection of this year’s Japan Cuts: Festival of New Japanese Film in New York.

Tamura has yet to amount to anything as a rocker and he has not been an especially filial son, but he seems to treat his slightly ditzy and mega-pregnant girlfriend Yuka right, so we are willing to work with him. That seems to be the general consensus of his family, even his crusty, standoffish father Osamu. Initially, Tamura brought Yuka to the family’s home off the Seto seacoast to think things out, but he decides to stay on longer when he learns his father’s cancer diagnosis.

To mend their relationship, Tamura sets off to notch items on the old man’s bucket list, but these Herculean tasks are actually much sweeter and down-to-earth than you would expect. Several involve the senior Tamura’s earnest dedication to 1970s glam-rocker Eikichi Yazawa. For years, Osamu has coached the local high school marching band through torturous renditions of Yazawa’s biggest hit. Maybe Tamura junior can help them finally get it right. His hair should give him plenty of street cred with them.

Along the way, we get to know the rest of the family and their respective quirks. Mother Tamura happens to be a passionate fan of the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, which must be the greatest team name ever. Don’t scoff Yankees fans, that’s where Alfonso Soriano started his career. Sadly, the Carp are something like the Chicago Cubs of Nippon Professional Baseball, so Haruko Tamura’s loyalty is appealing rather than creepy, like Anjelica Huston in Buffalo ’66.

Mohican is a sweet film, but it also has enough tartness to prevent a saccharine after taste. Despite Tamura’s grunginess, it still follows in the tradition of great Japanese family dramas, classically established by the likes of Ozu and Yoji Yamada. Ryuhei Matsuda is unusually understated for a Mohawk-wearing prodigal son in a fish-out-of-water dramedy, but in this case that is a good thing. Indeed, his relaxed, fatalistic charm makes him easy to spend time and identify with. Atsuko Maeda truly lights up the screen as Yuka, while Masako Motai anchors both the drama and the comedy as Haruko. We have kind of seen Akira Emoto’s grouchy prospective grandpa many times before, but he mostly avoids shtick and dials it down and in when things really matter.

This is just a super endearing film, filled with characters you like. It all seems very low key, but there are neat little moments that linger with you. Highly recommended, Mohican Comes Home is a nice way to launch this year’s Japan Cuts at New York’s Japan Society on Thursday (7/14), but it is already sold out, so if you’re not ticketed, you’re going to have to fly stand-by.