A troubled teen finds some strength and direction via an arduous pilgrimage in the modest yet solid “Fifteen,” latest heart-warmer from Japanese vet Yoji Yamada, helmer of Shochiku’s long-running “Tora-san” series. Though vaguely similar to plot of John Williams’ coming-of-ager “Butterfly Dreams,” pic has all the classic elements of a solid adolescent entertainment for all ages and could ride fest popularity to specialty engagements before dignified ancillary life.
Bored with school, ninth grader Daisuke Kawashima decides to get inspiration by visiting a 7,000-year-old cedar tree on an island off the southern tip of Japan. Without telling his folks he hitchhikes to Osaka, and ends up under the wing of distaff long-haul driver Sumire, who brings the boy home to meet her two children. Daisuke bonds with Sumire’s overweight and reclusive son Noboru, but soon leaves to take the ferry to Yakushima Island and the object of his quest.
Once there he’s helped on difficult climb by a mysterious girl, who coaches him to be “full-fledged” in his own way. Becoming lost and bedraggled on the way down, he’s rescued by a karaoke-loving Siberian. Returning to his school at last, Daisuke realizes that as far as the pace of life is concerned, “speed doesn’t matter, slower than the clouds is enough.”
Not unlike a blue collar, Japanese version of Eric Rohmer, Yamada and flexible team of scribes, crew and thesps have been turning out these vaguely linked paeans to self-discovery and decent family values in between “Tora-san” films for years. Debut pic in series, “A Class to Remember,” picked up numerous Nippon film kudos in 1993. As are the capable thesps, tech credits are unobtrusively skillful in service to the wholesome story.