Review: ‘Picaresque’

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."

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.

Picaresque

Japan

Production

A G.P. Museum production. Produced by Seichi Ono, Toshihiro Sato. Executive producer, Masashi Kitagawa. Directed by Hidehiro Ito. Screenplay, Kouta Yamada.

Crew

Camera (color), Shohei Ando; editor, Yousuke Yafune; music, Michiru Ohsima; production designer, Teru Yamazuke. Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival (Focus on Japanese Cinema), Aug. 23, 2002. Running time: 133 MIN.

With

Ryuchi Kawamura, Shiro Sano, Tamaki Ogawa, Mizcho Shumon.
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