Beautiful, dreamy drama with a darker edge, like most of Yuya Ishii's films. Strong across the board with some playful, almost experimental touches that never quite hit the right spot. Still a very worthy entry in Ishii's oeuvre, but it lacks that little extra refinement.
A surprisingly straight-forward drama by Ishii. There's certainly no lack of disease-based dramas in Japan, but this stands out as one of the better in the genre. The direction is subtle, performances are great and the emotional climax is dignified. Not as edgy as some of this other work, but well recommended for fans of Japanese cinema.
Yuya Ishii is one of Japan's more interesting drama directors of the moment. While I haven't seen a truly great film from his hands, the four films I have seen so far are all worth investing in. Fune Wo Amu (The Great Passage) is his latest feature and while quality-wise up to par with his previous efforts, I was quite surprised to find out Ishii was the director behind this film.
Ishii never really conformed to the boundaries of traditional Japanese dramas. He likes to combine dry comedy with bitter drama to form an awkward but positively challenging blend of atmospheres. The characters in his films are usually not the nicest and/or most likeable people, but they do try to earn our respect throughout the course of his films. Well, there's none of that in Fune Wo Amu, which strictly adheres to the rules of the traditional Japanese feel-good drama.
The films tells of Majime, a young social outcast who is transferred to the dictionary department of the print company he works for. There he finds his true calling and as the people around him start to leave the project one by one, Majime overcomes his fears and limitations to shoulder the project himself: create a dictionary for the people of today (which ends up being a mix between the Webster Dictionary and the Urban Dictionary).
The film is helped by a stellar cast. Matsuda shines as Majime (and resembles a young Tadanobu Asano), Jo Odagiri assists him where necessary and Aoi Miyazaki is cast as his supporting love interest. A strong trio that brings the needed depth and subtlety to the core characters. Still, they cannot prevent that the film itself is a tad plain. Visually modest and traditionally scored, Fune Wo Amu never becomes much more than an endearing and warm drama with its heart in the right place. It's a nice film that leaves you with a smile, but lacks that extra something that would've made it truly special. Still, if you have two hours to spare you could do much worse.
Quirky Japanese drama that mixes the slightly odd with the darkly dramatic. It's a coming of age film in the truest sense of the word, but Saeko's transition from girl to woman is a tough one. Her dad is struggling to keep his business afloat, Saeko hates school and doesn't have any real friends to fall back on. A typical Ishii film: solid, but stops short of greatness.
Ishii tackles Japan's problems with communication, doing so with Hong Kong money. The film is part of the Back 2 Basics program that yielded six films in total. And it does feel like a smaller film for Ishii, even when he never really made anything grand or epic. The quality is still there though.
Atsuhisa is a pretty ordinary guy, living together with his wife and 5-year-old daughter. Nothing seems off, until Atsuhisa comes home one day and finds his wife in bed with another man. Atsuhisa is overflowing with emotions, but he can't talk to his wife and not much later, they're divorced.
Japan is known for its more silent, reticent dramas, which generally work very well for me. This introverted behavior and lack of communication comes with its own set of issues, and it's nice to see Ishii addressing these head on. Performances are great, the drama feels genuine and even though the limit budget shines through, it doesn't affect the quality of the film too much. Another solid Ishii.
Early Yuya Ishii. A bit cruder compared to his later films, but his trademark style is already present. Comedy through bitter drama, it's not the easiest and most accessible approach to drawing laughs, but it's certainly different. Well acted, funny and just a little depressing, Bare-assed Japan is a perfect introduction into the work of Ishii.