Osamu Minorikawa's Life Can Be So Wonderful is a film that illustrates exactly what the recent output of Japanese cinema is missing. It's a very unique, personal and free-form film that exists outside of most genre boundaries and definitions. Just ten years ago projects like this were almost the norm, nowadays you have to dig deep to uncover gems like Minorikawa's freshman film. All the more reason to cherish it and to give it the attention it deserves.
Life Can Be So Wonderful is not so much traditional cinema as it is a visual poem, mixed with faux documentary impulses. Minorikawa isn't using this approach to shock or amuse, instead he tries to capture the beauty of life in small, personal moments and recollections. Everything about this film is a testament to Minorikawa's honest intentions, which is very refreshing in itself. Throughout the film you are constantly confronted with the presence of the director.
Minorikawa's film is actually an anthology project. There are five separate shorts that each have their very own voice and style, but still merge seamlessly into a single film. Each short introduces one character who is given a little window to philosophize on life. There is no connection between the characters, there is no dramatic arc that brings them together, but the overarching idea and approach of each short is always the same.
While there is some dramatic tension left and right, Life Can Be So Wonderful really is an ode to life. Some shorts are more melancholic than others, the second one in particular is even a little downbeat, but each short still knows to emit a positive message. Minorikawa's film is about appreciating life, even when some parts of it are less than perfect or different from how we imagined them to be. A very simple yet elegant message that runs throughout every single fiber of this film.
Minorikawa aims his camera at the little things that make people happy. Unsuspecting objects like plants and cute gadgets or people enjoying the sunny atmosphere inside their own house. There are no majestic camera swoops or intricate edits to convince us that life is worth living, instead the film is littered with beautiful snapshots of places and objects where we would usually not look for beauty.
The music is pretty traditional, in the sense that it aligns with what you would expect from an artistic drama film like this. Soft, somewhat meandering music that sets a nice atmosphere to let the mind wander from time to time. There are quite a few voice overs too, to the point where they actually become part of the soundscape of the film. It's all pretty decent, but admittedly not as interesting as the rest of the film.
The acting is very natural and lifelike. I actually tracked down this film because Ryuhei Matsuda was in it, but the other actors are just as great. I would even go as far as to say that Matsuda's appearance clashed a little with the natural vibe this film emitted, as it made me realize that it was all a mere setup rather than stylized documentary footage. It has little to do with Matsuda's actual performance, it's just that a less recognizable or popular actor might've been a better choice. Then again, a name like Matsuda does attract people (with myself being the perfect example), so in the end including him was probably worth it.
Life Can Be So Wonderful may be quite short with only a good 65 minutes of actual film (not counting the credits), but I'm sure that it will seem like an endless drag to some people. If you expect a linear story line with dramatic events propelling the film forward then you're going to be bored as hell. Instead Minorikawa attempts to capture the emotions through more abstract visuals and little human portraits. It's mostly a non-linear experience with little in the way of plot or emotional climaxes, luckily there are still directors out there who realize that film is more than drawing people's asses to a nearby movie theater.
I was happily surprised after watching Life Can Be So Wonderful. It's an upbeat, albeit slow and meandering, film that succeeds effortlessly in its goals. I guess finding Minorikawa's other films will prove to be quite a challenge, but if they're as good as this one it's definitely going to be worth the trouble. Be warned that this is not a film aimed at mindless entertainment, but if you're in the mood for a slow-burning charmer that acts outside the boundaries of traditional cinema then it's warmly recommended.