Japanese Films at the Cannes Film Festival 2018 Review Round-Up: Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s “Asako I & II”

Making his Cannes debut is Ryosuke Hamaguchi who came to the world’s attenton with his five hour film Happy Hour (2015) which took a top prize at the Locarno Film Festival. Here, he adapts

Asako I & II

Asako I and II Film Image

Asako I & II / Sleeping or Waking (literal title)    Asako I & II Nete mo samete mo Film Poster

寝ても覚めても Netemo sametemo

Running Time: 119 mins.

Release Date: September 01st, 2018

Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Writer: Sachiko Tanaka, Ryusuke Hamaguchi(Screenplay), Tomoka Shibasaki (Original Novel)

Starring: Masahiro Higashide, Erika Karata, Koji Seto, Rio Yamashita, Sairi Itoh, Daichi Watanabe, Koji Nakamoto, Misako Tanaka,

Website IMDB

Update: August 15th: Trailer added

Synopsis: Asako (Erika Karata) is a 21-year-old woman who lives in Osaka with her boyfriend Baku (Masahiro Higashide), a free-spirited man, but when he disappears he leaves a permanent shadow in her memories.

Two years later and Asako now lives in Tokyo where she meets a salaryman named Ryohei (Masahiro Higashide). He looks just like Baku, but he has a completely different personality with sincerity being the biggest difference. Asako falls in love with Ryohei, but tries her best to avoid him because of her memories of Baku.

Some critics have labelled this as insipid due to the lack of visual flair in the cinematography department, Hamaguchi’s choice to play the story straight (although he apparently added a strange scene set during the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami which gets praise), and Karata’s character who is passive. Jonathan Romney sums up what seems to be the critical view of that camp:

Adapting a novel of the same title by Tomoka Shibasaki, Hamaguchi extols his source for a compelling representation of love as a mystic experience. However, what gets transferred to the screen becomes more like banal indecision.” Maggie LeeVariety

Ostensibly outré as the premise is, Hamaguchi never infuses the drama with overt oddness… Karata proves a rather insipid centre to the film, not just because of the actress’s bland pertness but because of the passivity of the character… Yasuyuki Sasaki’s cinematography, foregrounding clean framing and desaturated colours (with emphasis on creams, beiges and yellows, especially at the start) makes for an altogether detached viewing experience, rendering Asako I & II barely more resonant than a well-sheened lifestyle movie.” Jonathan RomneyScreen Daily

Asako I & II is a dutiful adaptation, competently crafted and lightly charming in places, with a pair of attractive young leads. There are doubtless cultural subtleties and local references at work here which non-Japanese audiences will miss. But as a universal allegory about the conflicting extremes of romantic love, as symbolized by Asako’s two lookalike boyfriends, this is a mundane story filmed in a flatly conventional manner.” Stephen DaltonThe Hollywood Reporter

You might think that the overall consensus is that the film drags and it doesn’t have the fascinating content that Happy Hour did but some critics are defending this one not least because it presents a new take on the obsessive character.

“It has a kind of counter-Vertigo theme, a tale of mirror-image obsession, but where this kind of thing is usually about the possessive male gaze and passively enigmatic female beauty, here things are reversed. Asako is about the female gaze, and male beauty.” Peter BradshawThe Guardian

Maybe people are missing something…

“Asako I & II” sometimes feels listless, but it’s never less than an exquisite showcase for nuanced performances and a filmmaker in complete control of idiosyncratic material. The talky romance that wouldn’t look out of place in Eric Rohmer’s oeuvre, and suggests what might happen if the New Wave auteur attempted to revise “Vertigo”

However, Hamaguchi finds ways of crystallizing the movie’s themes, lingering on contemplative moments that position the entire story as a metaphor for the contrast between the fantasies and realities of relationships, as well as the messy negotiation required to navigate those extremes.” Eric KohnIndie Wire

In many ways, “Asako I & II” is a lovely meditation on memory and loss, about the power that the past can have to keep us from growing.,.Steve PondThe Wrap

If it doesn’t reach the dramatic heights of Happy Hour, there’s still a tale here and there will be some audiences who delight in discovering it. This one may be battled over as to whether it is good or not as it goes on its festival tour.

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