Japanese Title: 横道世余之介
Romaji: Yokomichi Yonosuke
Release Date: February 23rd, 2013 (Japan)
UK Release Date: N/A
UK Distributor: Third Window Films
Running Time: 160 mins.
Director: Shuichi Okita
Writer: Shiro Maeda (Screenplay), Shuichi Yoshida (Original Novel)
Starring: Kengo Kora, Yuriko Yoshitaka, Sosuke Ikematsu, Ayumi Ito, Gou Ayano, Arata, Kimiko Yo, Aki Asakura, Mei Kurokawa, Tasuku Emoto, Aimi Satsukawa, Keiko Horiuchi, Noriko Eguchi,
I was made a fan of Shuichi Okita after watching The Woodsman & the Rain, a film which is a wonderfully observed and rather touching comedy about the art of filmmaking and human bonds. Despite potentially weighty subjects I found it was an amusing and gratifying film that worked through its great characters and well-observed dry comedy. Okita is back a year after that film with a more complex one as he directs Shiro (Isn’t Anyone Alive?) Maeda’s adaptation of Shuichi’s Yoshida’s novel which flits between different time periods with a large cast of characters stretching between the ’80s and now.
Tokyo 1987, Yonosuke Yokomichi (Kora) has left a small port city and lumbers into Tokyo to attend university. It blows his mind. There are huge buildings covered with ads for Sony and Kiss Mint gum, he sees amateur idol groups performing J-pop on the street and fashionable people everywhere.
He is staying in a simple apartment while attending Hosei University where he’s studying business administration. He soon makes friends at an entrance ceremony.These friends are the over-enthusiastic and puppyish Ippei Kuramochi (Ikematsu) and a cute girl named Yui Akutsu (Asakura) who takes pride in her makeup. The three spend time together at the university samba club until Ippei and Yui leave…
… Tokyo 20XX and we see that Ippei and Yui are married and have a daughter. The two talk about the past and wonder what happened to Yonosuke…
We then go back to 1987 where Yonosuke meets more people like party girl Chiharu Katase (Ito) who uses her good looks to prey on rich men. Yonosuke also falls in with cool guy Yusuke Kato (Ayano), a girl magnet who has other things on his mind. Through them he meets Shoko Yosano (Yoshitaka), the daughter of a company president, and she will become his future girlfriend.
Flash-forward to now where we witness them reminiscing about Yonosuke we see his story.
The Story of Yonosuke is a nostalgic and kind-hearted film which shows the impact of one person on the lives of others, an which echoes down the ages. It takes place in a wonderfully recreated ’80s Japan full of period details (the garish fashion like jeans and bright woolly jumpers, ’80s J-pop, Sony Walkmen and adverts for Wimpy Burger) and this world is populated by an array of people who seem nice on the outside but have problems or character flaws they are dealing with. Through Yonosuke these problems are explored as he makes connections with them. Then we see the future versions of the characters think about their encounters with their unlikely friend and saviour of sorts, Yonosuke, the audience’s understanding and appreciation of Yonosuke as an individual grows.
Yonosuke is totally nice and earnest and through this positive attitude he enables people to become better thanks to his open and honest behaviour. Not as sophisticated as the Tokyo set he meets and constantly getting laughed at because of the alliteration his name makes, and his lack of nuance, he comes across as a naïve hick in the big city especially when he makes social faux pas or misreads people and situations that we with the benefit of experience and hindsight understand but he wins through nevertheless because of his good nature.
As a result of his relentless cheeriness and ability to win people over, even when the film is dark, it’s not cruel comedy because his lovely nature eventually wears through the cynicism that the characters and audience have and make allow everyone to make a connection with Yonosuke and laugh with him not at him.
I write relentlessly cheery but do not fear because it’s never irritating. Yonosuke is a genuinely nice guy and he views the world and the people in it with a degree of admiration and positivity and so he sees the best in situations and makes even the most closed-off characters and places open up in new and wonderful ways. As Yonosuke gets caught up in strange situations and crazes of the 80’s and big-city life we see the fun side of life he sees.
This world building is what the film does so well. I felt like I was watching interesting people from real families in places familiar from old travel documentaries like Michael Palin’s Around the World in 80 Days. These people and the cute relationship building came across as genuine. You can imagine these characters still interacting with each other off-screen.
The film shuns sentimentality for the most part as characters go on unpredictable journeys thanks to Yonosuke and end up better. It works because the events are not contrived and the people are interesting and it allowed the human drama to feel fresh and funny.
Lead actor Kengo Kora is the heart of a wonderful film which follows a nice guy. With his mop of hair and charming grin he is easy to watch and love. Yuriko Yoshitaka who made a strong impression in her debut Noriko’s Dinner Table is irresistibly cute as Shoko and their relationship is beautiful without being idealised… much. It’s the type of relationship you think back on with a smile because of all the happy memories and moments of beauty which is the essence of this wonderful film.
Despite the more complex narrative structure of flashbacks and flash-forwards, Okita’s breezy and light visual touch is in evidence here. His style serves to emphasise dry comic touches, the large array of characters and their actions and the things they go through. The director’s approach to what is ostensibly a human drama about the meaning of life and the memories we make yields a delightful and warm-hearted film that is easy to love, highly entertaining and rewarding.