Review: ‘A Stranger Of Mine’

Droll dramedy "A Stranger of Mine" folds the events of one night in the lives of five lost souls over and around one another with origami-like precision. Pic is a low-key calling card for sophomore writer-helmer Kenji Uchida that will be no stranger to fests but will summon only modest play in theatrical and homevid.

Self-consciously clever to diminishing returns, droll dramedy “A Stranger of Mine” folds the events of one night in the lives of five lost souls over and around one another with origami-like precision. Pic is a low-key calling card for sophomore writer-helmer Kenji Uchida that will be no stranger to fests but will summon only modest play in theatrical and homevid.

Despondent and vowing to be alone after discovering her beau’s apparent indiscretion, plain and plaintive Miyara (Yasuhi Nakamura) is approached while dining by cocky private eye Kanda (Soh Yamanaka), who impulsively decides to fix her up with his shy and colorless childhood buddy Maki (Reika Kirishima), who was recently dumped by Ayumi (Yuka Itaya). Subsequently, the two tongue-tied lost souls share an awkward evening, before Miyara departs in a cab as Maki dances gleefully after bravely obtaining her phone number.

Meanwhile, the abrupt reappearance of Ayumi leads to a secondary plot thread, in which it’s revealed Maki’s ex is in deep with mob boss Shinobu (Kisuke Yamashita) and is on the run with a suitcase full of cash she thinks is real but auds know is mostly blank paper. When she appeals to Kanda for advice, events become increasingly intertwined.

Uchida withholds much of this plot information during the early reels, preferring to let interlocking details unfold gradually. Soon scenes are replaying from each character’s perspective, inevitably offering different interpretations of seemingly mundane actions. Total, however, is less than the sum of these inventive parts, as expected emotional wallop suggested by pic’s genre tropes never materializes.

Thesping is precise and balanced, with only Yamanaka’s wild-eyed shamus Kanda injecting much emotional energy into proceedings. Tech credits are quietly skilled, with Keiichiro Inoue’s camera often observing the characters from across busy roads and Shinichi Fushima’s editing clearly delineating spatial dimensions of each repeated sequence. Mischievous sound mix has music cutting off to correspond with onscreen action, while character names appear on title cards punctuating action and English-lingo end credits are stopped for a final visual punchline.

Uchida studied for six years at San Francisco State U. in the mid-1990s; “Stranger,” his second feature following the little-seen and self-financed “Weekend Blues,” was bankrolled by a scholarship from Tokyo-based PIA indie fest.

A Stranger Of Mine

Japan

Production

A PFF Partners production. (International sales: Tokyo Broadcasting System, Tokyo.) Produced by Amano Mayumi. Directed, written by Kenji Uchida.

Crew

Camera (color), Keiichiro Inoue; editor, Shinichi Fushima; music, Mitsuharu Ishibashi; production designer, Yasuo Kurosu; costume designers, Azumi Sano, Nobuko Nagai; assistant director, Kenji Nakanishi. Reviewed at Cinema Le Lincoln, Paris, May 3, 2005. (In Cannes Film Festival -- Critics Week.) Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Yasuhi Nakamura, Reika Kirishima, Soh Yamanaka, Yuka Itaya, Kisuke Yamashita.
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