Some films don't need to excel. They don't even feel the need to shine, they simply posses the rare ability to crawl under your skin, ever so slowly. You might not even realize it while watching, but by the end of the film, no matter how cynical you are, it reaches you right where it matters. Sure, there were plenty of opportunities to burn down this film, but somehow that didn't seem appropriate when the end credits started rolling.
Flowers In The Shadow is an ensemble film, mixing dramatic plot points with a lighthearted and sometimes even comic atmosphere. The film is way too silly to be a true drama, yet there is too much drama to make the film laugh out loud funny. And yet it does manage to work, in the same way Always - Sunset On Third Street worked. There's a certain warmth and cosiness dripping from its every pore that makes it all bearable. Call it the magic of cinema.
At the center of the film stands the chance meeting between a young country girl and a young gambling addict. The girl traveled all the way to Tokyo, looking for her mother's first love while the boy is trying to get over his mother's death, raising a hardheaded family brawl with his father. They seem to be attracted to each other, but somehow the issues they are facing stand in between their blossoming friendship, slowly driving them apart.
Spread around this duo is a cast of seven others, each facing their own difficulties in life (reuniting with a long lost son, pressure at work, coping with first love, ...) and trying to get by the best they know how. Each of these characters is blessed with enough dramatic tension to fill a whole separate film, so don't go in expecting too much depth or a full set of realistic characters, Flowers In The Sun really isn't that kind of film.
Visually Flowers In The Shadow is borderline passable. It's not like Hirakawa completely neglected the visual side of things. The camera work looks clean and slick enough and it definitely goes beyond just pointing a camera at what is happening plot-wise, but there simply aren't too many memorable visual moments here. It's all pretty basic and safe with seemingly very little intention of going beyond.
Pretty much the same could be said about the soundtrack. Sure it suits the film fine and it never comes off as irritating or overblown, at the same time it does very little to improve what is already there. It's just a collection of tracks to fill in the void of silence. Hirakawa would do good to pay a bit more attention to these things for his future films as it would help the overall atmosphere to ground a lot quicker.
The acting on the other hand is pretty strong. Sure not all that realistic but all actors succeed in finding the proper balance between the comical overacting bits and the more serious dramatic parts. Most of them have a pretty fancy resume already, still they do a commendable job making this film work the way it should.
Hirakawa takes Flowers In The Shadow near various barriers of bad taste, and yet he remains on the safe side at all times. There are no cringe-worthy moments, no scenes leaving a sour aftertaste or sections that feel particularly out of place. Flowers In The Shadow is a film that works even though it looks like a total disaster on paper, which is quite a feat really. Very few films get away with that.
Flowers In The Shadow does come with a serious warning though. How you'll experience this film is rather personal, and so it is pretty plausible you may find that Hirakawa does go beyond the borders of acceptable taste. If that's the case, I'm sure the film turns sour pretty quickly and the two hour running time may feel like hell on earth. There's a fickle balance that once its broken cannot be easily repaired.
If you liked Always - Sunset On Third Street I'm pretty confident to recommend this film, if not it might be better to catch that film first. With that in mind, Flowers In The Sun did work for me and after a good 90 minutes a fuzzy feeling set in, indicating the underlying strength of Hirakawa's film. A cute, small and endearing little film that deserves an appreciative audience.