Kyoto Elegy


Reviewed by: Luke Shaw

"Unfortunately, it’s all rather muddled."

Kyoto Elegy is the story of a young man’s life, told in three stages. I don’t know what the elegy part is for, perhaps mourning the loss of innocence, or maybe a loss of empathy? Either way, this confusing film fails to give us a character to hook ourselves to, leaving us lost and adrift.

Set after the Fukushima disaster, Kyoto Elegy follows the life of Law student Watabe, a young, gormless, pushover (played by Takahiro Miura). He is concerned about his mother’s safety in Fukushima, and is withdrawn and vulnerable to the abuse of others in his classes. Fellow outcast Kumahori (Kiki Sugni) takes a shine to him because he doesn’t instantly dismiss her because of her appearance: slovenly and overweight. She becomes yet another person to take advantage of him, encroaching into his life and pushing for him to buy her meat so she can stay attractive to men, whom she despises.

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Finding himself with no money, he takes up a job and meets Nako (Eri Tokunaga), a young cook with her own insecurities. Events then fast forward three years, to Watabe’s life and relationship meltdown, and then a further five, as his life comes full circle as he runs into a reformed Kumahori. As with many Japanese films, it is a critique of aspects of Japanese social conventions, and an analysis on the unique psychology of young adults in modern Japan. The touch that Sugino brings to make a difference is the inclusion of a rumination on the role and portrayal of women in both Japanese Cinema and Japanese life.

Unfortunately, it’s all rather muddled. Characters are perhaps too extreme, and Watabe is a quiet, self serving coward who makes an awkward lead. The performance captures this well, but it’s hard to empathise with him, and whilst this may be the point, the sense of homeostasis that the film ends with makes it unsatisfactory. It feel like the edges have been sawn off a more powerful, introspective drama, one that asks more questions and gives more definitive answers about its subjects.

Kyoto is filmed with a certain amount of affection however, and the dissonant Noh style music added a wistful undercurrent to events, but it’s at odds with the main themes here, serving only to lend the carefully framed shots a more meaningful feel. As the curtain closes, it’s difficult to know what this film is lamenting. It’s certainly plaintive and melancholic, but a tighter focus on the repercussions of certain events would have added a much needed poetic edge.

Reviewed on: 26 Jun 2015
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Three women have an impact on the life of a selfish would-be lawyer.

Director: Kiki Sugino

Writer: Kiki Sugino

Starring: Chisun, Takahiro Miura, Yûko Miyamoto, Nobumitsu Ohnishi, Kiki Sugino, Taiga, Yoshimi Tokui, Eri Tokunaga

Year: 2014

Runtime: 94 minutes

Country: Japan


EIFF 2015

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