The life of the Japanese writer known as Osamu Dazai becomes an all-too-familiar litany of too-sensitive-to-live behaviors — suicide attempts, creative frustration, alcoholic tantrums, et al. — in vet Nippon director Hidehiro Ito’s sluggish biopic “Picaresque.” Author’s cult status as a tragic-rebellious figure could give this a leg-up on home terrain, but there’s little in this screen treatment to intrigue offshore auds unfamiliar with his work.
Played sullenly by Ryuchi Kawamura, estranged bourgeois son Dazai affects a tortured-artist image — black cape, beret, brooding moods –in line with his adoration of French lit (especially Proust). Pic is divided into chapters by protag’s serial involvements with various women whose self-sacrificing devotion makes them all seem alike. First up is a waitress who dies in an only half-successful double suicide attempt; both he and a subsequent wife survive another such effort, but a last mistress succeeds in orchestrating dual martyrdom in 1948. Too even-tempered and stylistically plain to convey the turbulence of subject’s life and art — while also hobbled by modest production scale (WWII is pretty much encapsulated by one air-raid siren) — “Picaresque” is workmanlike to a fault.