"Kramer vs. Kramer" reworked in a very contemporary Japanese fashion, "Quartet for Two" covers pretty familiar territory but finds ways to make it fresh and interesting. What starts out as a fairly bitter look at a failing marriage becomes uncommonly quirky and lively before the end.

Kramer vs. Kramer” reworked in a very contemporary Japanese fashion, “Quartet for Two” covers pretty familiar territory but finds ways to make it fresh and interesting. What starts out as a fairly bitter look at a failing marriage becomes uncommonly quirky and lively before the end. This fourth feature directed by actor Naoto Takenaka, who is best-known internationally for his hilarious turn as the dedicated hoofer in “Shall We Dance?” (1996), should do solid business in Japan and, at least, merits small-screen exposure in other territories.

The unusual thing about the Sasaki family, especially in the Japanese context, is the fact that Shotaro (Takenaka) is a house-husband, while his elegant wife, Minako (Yuki Amami) heads the design department of a large construction company. The Sasakis have two children, Mari (the film debut of popular teen model Keika Fukitsuka) and Toru (Yuta Amami).

Their problems begin when Shotaro and Toru are visiting the local noodle bar. An anguished woman, the wife of one of Minako’s employees, has hired a private detective to provide photographic proof that her husband and Minako are having an affair.

Thoroughly humiliated, Shotaro confronts his wife and the result is a flaming row during which he hits her. She decides to file for divorce. Toru, who saw the photos, sides with his father in the dispute; Mari, who has been rehearsing a piano duet with her mother that they plan to perform at an upcoming recital, isn’t so sure.

Having established the basic plot, Takenaka proceeds to develop it along quite unexpected lines. He makes his own character a surprisingly feminine one, a typical “housewife,” in fact, who usually wears an apron around the house.

But there’s something a little off-center about most of the characters in the film, just about all of whom sing or hum tunes to themselves, and behave in other odd ways.

On the bus (Shotaro can’t drive a car), just about everyone is sleeping. Pic culminates with the much-anticipated recital in which Minako and Mari will perform.

Although the comedy is a trifle forced at times, on the whole Takenaka’s penchant for the unexpected works delightfully. Pic could stand a little pruning, but it’s an amiable and brightly packaged entertainment, charmingly acted by the four principals.

Quartet For Two

Japan

Production

A Shochiku Co. production. (International sales: Shochiku, Tokyo.) Produced by Hideshi Miyajima, Toshiaki Harada, Yasutaka Otsuka, Tomiyasu Ishikawa, Tsutomu Takano. Directed by Naoto Takenaka. Screenplay, Maruo Kyozuka.

Crew

Camera (color), Yasushi Sasakibara; editor, Yoshiyuki Okuhara; production designer, Iwao Saito; sound, Mineharu Kitamura. Reviewed at Berlin Film Fest (Forum), Feb. 13, 2001. Running time: 104 MIN.

With

Shotaro Sasaki - Naoto Takenaka Minako Sasaki - Yuki Amami Mari Sasaki - Keika Fukitsuka Toru Sasaki - Yuta Minowa Mr. Tanimura - Mitsuhiro Oikawa

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