Sunday, August 06, 2023

Japan Cuts ’23: The Three Sisters of Tenmasou Inn

Death never comes for a holiday at Tenmasou Inn, but she brings plenty of guests. She has a relationship with the two Tenma Sisters and their mother to host spirits in limbo, as they decide whether to keep living or to proceed unto death. The latest guest she escorts will be quite a surprise: a half-sister the Tenma siblings never knew they had. Its is also news to the traumatized Tamae Ogawa, who will have a lot to process in Ryuhei Kitamura’s The Three Sisters of Tenmasou Inn, which screens today as part of this year’s Japan Cuts Festival of New Japanese Film.

Nozomi, Kanae, and their irascible mother Keiko Tenma are dead, but Ogawa is not, at least not yet. Her young life has been hard, because her father abandoned her at a young age, just as he did with Nozomi and Kanae. They still had Keiko, but Ogawa’s mother tragically died during her infancy. Despite her unfortunate current circumstances, Ogawa is delighted to meet new family, as are her half-sisters. However, the boozy Keiko is less than welcoming.

Considering herself part of the family, Ogawa insists on working at the inn. Since most of the day-to-day responsibilities fall on the older, more professional Nozomi, she appreciates Ogawa’s help. She is especially grateful when her half-dead half-sister takes the hospitality lead with two difficult guests. One is an old lady who takes pleasure in nitpicking. The other is Yuna Ashizawa, a privileged influencer, who attempted suicide. Both are somewhat disarmed by Ogawa’s honesty and lack of guile. Nevertheless, Ashizawa cannot control her disruptive behavior. Apparently, even in near-death, some Millennials remain obnoxious and entitled.

Tenmasouu Inn
is a lovely looking film that seems worlds removed from Kitamura’s recent horror and action movies, such as Downrange and The Doorman. However, he previously helmed a much darker thriller set within the “Sky High” manga universe that Tenmasou Inn is also adapted from.

It turns out he can jerk tears with the best of them. Thematically,
Tenmasou Inn is a lot like Kore-eda’s classic After Life and Edson Oda’s Nine Days, but it is more sentimental, yet also sometimes more surprising. It is all achingly sentimental, but its Japanese-ness makes it really appealing, sort of in the tradition of Departures.

Yuko Oshima really is quite wonderful as Nozomi, the oldest sister. Mugi Kadowaki provides an effective counterpoint as Kanae, her slightly rebellious full sister. Sometimes Non (as the former model is still known) is sometimes frustratingly naïve and mousy as Ogawa, but that is largely her role as the “poor relation,” so to speak.

Throughout it all, coastal Japan looks like a lovely place to visit, especially when there are trained dolphins at the local aquarium (don’t let those lunatics protesting Sea World hear about this film). Like some of its guests, the film really drags out its goodbyes, but you just do not see honest three-handkerchief movies like this coming out of Hollywood anymore. Recommended for anyone who enjoys a good cinematic cry,
The Three Sisters of Tenmasou Inn screens today (8/6) as Japan Cuts concludes in New York.