Review: ‘Hotaru’

Naomi Kawase's second feature, "Hotaru," is more of the same from the director of "Suzaku" (1997). Though the young helmer has her disciples on the fest circuit, this infuriatingly slow, 165-minute study of an emotionally dysfunctional exotic dancer looks headed to equal commercial obscurity outside Japan.

Willfully obscure and arrogantly dismissive of its audience, Naomi Kawase’s second feature, “Hotaru,” is more of the same from the director of “Suzaku” (1997). Though the young helmer has her disciples on the fest circuit, this infuriatingly slow, 165-minute study of an emotionally dysfunctional exotic dancer looks headed to equal commercial obscurity outside Japan. Cutting by at least an hour would marginally improve matters, but still not reward viewers’ patience with any payoff.

Ayako (Yuko Nakamura), still traumatized by her mother’s suicide when a young girl, sleepwalks through life. A relationship of sorts starts with a solitary potter, Daiji (Toshiya Nagasawa), whose infinite patience is further tested when she suddenly returns to her village after 10 years (to find her grandma has just died) and later decides to quit her job in a strip club. Shot largely with a handheld camera, with occasional formal compositions, pic is perversely economical with information necessary to empathize with the characters and appears to take auds’ sympathy for the blank, screwed-up Ayako as a given, rather than something to be earned. Dialogue is either sparse or emotionally self-indulgent. Original Japanese title (typically never translated) means “Firefly.”

Hotaru

Japan

Production

A Dentsu, Imagica, Suncent CinemaWorks, Tokyo Theatre presentation of a Suncent CinemaWorks/Tokyo Theatre production, in association with Les Films de l'Observatoire. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Takenori Sento. Co-producer, Philippe Avril. Directed, written by Naomi Kawase.

Crew

Camera (color), Masami Inomoto; editor, Kawase; music, Kawase, Naomi Matsuoka; art director, Kyoko Heya. Reviewed at Locarno Film Festival (competing), Aug. 7, 2000. Running time: 165 MIN.

With

Yuko Nakamura, Toshiya Nagasawa, Miyako Yamaguchi, Toshiyuki Kitami, Ken Mitsuishi.
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