Elephant Song

Everything that happens in "Elephant Song" doesn't add up to a hill of beans, but this charming, beautifully played vignetter puts many a more portentous feature to shame. Minimalist maverick Go Riju, whose last film, "Zazie," charmed Toronto-goers back in 1989, has come up with another bauble sure to delight the fest crowd.

With:
Kanako ... Miyuki Matsuda Noboru ... Seiichiro Shimotsuki Yoshiki ... Susumu Terajima Susumu, Kanako's son ... Yuki Takamura Cafe client ... Hiromi Kuronuma Landlord ... Morio Agata

Everything that happens in “Elephant Song” doesn’t add up to a hill of beans, but this charming, beautifully played vignetter puts many a more portentous feature to shame. Minimalist maverick Go Riju, whose last film, “Zazie,” charmed Toronto-goers back in 1989, has come up with another bauble sure to delight the fest crowd.

Ditzy waitress Kanako (winningly played by Miyuki Matsuda) learns that “Chestnut Uncle,” an old friend of hers, has died. She’d earlier promised to bury rather than cremate him, to honor his wish to be transformed back into earth, to be of use to the planet.

Kanako and her son flag down a friend with a delivery van and, with the body in the back, they set off. En route, she stops at a store to buy a spade and, in a delightfully loopy scene, ends up playing keyboard in the shop’s music department.

Next day they reach the appointed place on a wooded hillside. Kanako lugs the body on her back, pauses for a moment of tearful reflection, and buries the old man. She hugs her son in joy at a promise kept.

Pic is a back-of-an-envelope idea with a cross-generational theme that’s part road movie, part free-form filmmaking. By staying refreshingly oblique and never spelling out its messages, it maintains its easy appeal without any sense of strain. For a Generation X portrait, it’s also refreshingly optimistic.

Dialogue and playing is relaxed and easy, tech credits fine. Pic is part of a series produced by private TV station Wowow that features younger directors, and could easily slot into discerning foreign webs’ skeds.

Elephant Song

(Japanese -- Generational drama -- Color)

Production: A Wowow production for Japan Satellite Broadcasting. (International sales: JSB, Tokyo.) Produced by Takenori Sento, Shoetsu Sat, Koji Kobayashi. Directed by Go Riju. Screenplay, Osamu Minorikawa, Riju.

Crew: Camera (color), Kazuhiko Ogura; editor, Shuichi Kakesu; music, Sion; sound, Masatoshi Yokomizo. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Forum), Feb. 17, 1995. Running time: 59 min.

With: Kanako ... Miyuki Matsuda Noboru ... Seiichiro Shimotsuki Yoshiki ... Susumu Terajima Susumu, Kanako's son ... Yuki Takamura Cafe client ... Hiromi Kuronuma Landlord ... Morio Agata

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