Romaji: Ahiro to Kamo no Koin Rokka
Release Date: June 23rd, 2007 (Japan)
UK DVD Release Date: January 14th, 2013
UK DVD Distributor: Third Window Films
Running Time: 110 mins.
Director: Yoshihiro Nakamura
Writer: Yoshihiro Nakamura (Screenplay), Kotaro Isaka (Novel)
Starring: Gaku Hamada, Eita, Megumi Seki, Nene Otsuka, Ryuei Matsuda, Kei Tamura, Kaoru Hirata, Midoriko Kimura, Masaki Okada
The Foreign Duck, The Native Duck & God in a Coin Locker is such a strange title that I expected a low-key indie comedy but got a lot more.
Shiina (Gaku Hamada) is moving from the shoe shop his parents run to his new apartment in Sendai as he joins Aoba University to study law. On his first day he tries introducing himself to his neighbours but they are too pre-occupied with their own lives to care. As Shiina regroups after rejection he sings the Dylan song “Blowin’ in the Wind” which attracts the attention of one of his new neighbours, a tall and handsome chap named Kawasaki (Eita). Kawasaki is a complete contrast to the short and mild-mannered Shiina but share a mutual interest in Bob Dylan and strike up a friendship. Kawasaki does seem a bit of an odd duck, but in an irresistibly cool and charming kind of way, and Shiina can’t help but be drawn into his more exciting, if slightly loony world. Kawasaki’s head is full of unpredictable ideas, like his absurd warnings about pet shop owner Reiko (Nene Otsuka) or his even more absurd plan to steal a dictionary for their Bhutanese neighbour. Next thing Shiina knows, he’s standing watch with a toy gun outside the bookstore, on the beginning of their bizarre, existential adventure…
The film is based on a 2003 novel by mystery writer Kotaro Isaka (his book Remote Control is available through Amazon UK and sounds so good I may purchase a copy). This is not the first book of his to be adapted. Indeed, director Yoshihiro Nakamura adapted another called Fish Story to great acclaim (also available through Third Window Films). Finding out all of this came after viewing the film and so I had no idea this was a mystery. If I did I think my expectations would have been staggered because it never feels like one. Indeed after watching twenty minutes I had tagged it as a light comedy with goofball characters doing a lot of talking but the film manages to switch genre and mood with ease.
It starts with Shiina in what seemed like a play on a coming of age tale. We witness his first explorations of Sendai, a place famous for its BBQed tongue which his parents constantly remind him of. He is like anybody who finds themselves in a new environment, plagued by doubt and indecision and adhering to social codes to try and fit in. These moments are wryly observed and provide gentle comedy as we see him bewildered by his situation and swallowed up by crowds. His lost at sea is somewhat mirrored in that of an Indian woman who finds herself on the receiving end of suspicion and derision just for being an outsider. Ah, I said to myself, this is clearly a light comedy examining Japanese attitudes to foreigners! Foreign and native ducks! Case closed!
It is not long before we are introduced to Kawasaki. He looks the type that a person would want as a friend with an easy smile and confident demeanour, cool fashion sense and an exuberant mop of hair but right from the very, very first introductions there are peculiar things about him running from his obsession with Dylan all the way through to his strange ambition to rob a book store. It is a hair-brained scheme involving singing Blowin’ in the Wind to mark time and there is something totally off about the actual robbery which is quite tense. Then we meet Reiko the pet shop owner and discover that our tale takes yet another turn with pet killing and a character with a disease.
The narrative is complicated as it jumps around perspectives and between past and present but after watching the film the plot makes sense and is very, very intelligently and skilfully handled and there are multiple clues planted throughout and a fascinating examination on the ways that we alter our characters to fit in. To write any more might be to spoil the film but even at its most complicated it is still engaging and when the film’s narrative switches genres we are still invested in the characters and that is thanks to a steady tone which is subdued and thoughtful and it is also thanks to the actors.
There is a strong cast assembled with great performances from Eita, Nene Otsuka, Megumi Seki and Ryuhei Matsuda but it is Gaku Hamada who steals the show. He is perfect as Shiina what with his small stature, mild-mannered look and innocent face and he becomes an empathetic character to follow which is handy because we are exploring a film which takes numerous twists thanks to the director’s exploration of subjective POV.
This is my first real surprise of 2013. It is a film with a genuinely original and emotionally complex story. What started out as a film about how we make friends and the way people can affect us and how we change ourselves to fit in. Enjoy this film for the story that unfolds and the great acting that pulls the audience along.
35 minute ‘Making Of’, Deleted Scenes, Theatrical Trailer
As is usual with Third Window Films there are plentiful extras and they turn out to be very rewarding viewing as they give a great insight into the making of the film. A 35 minute ‘Making Of’ has the director and actors talk about their perceptions of the film. The director talks about how the actor’s ad-libbing makes the film stronger. Another great interview is with the actor Gaku Hamada who admits that he did not understand the narrative which helped his performance. He is interviewed after a scene that sees him overcome with emotion. There are also nearly 20 minutes of deleted scenes that reveal that the filmmakers know how to restrain themselves. Many of the scenes mirror others left in the film and drive home (rather excessively) the idea of outsiders. There are some character actions that are too extreme that would have ruined the atmosphere of the film. Also, I feel sorry for the actresses who found their roles entirely cut!