Review: ‘Awaking’

A widow opens a Pandora's box of hidden secrets in awkwardly titled but engaging Japanese meller "Awaking." Pic turns on antiquated norms that Western auds may find intriguing; at sesh caught, even Tokyo moviegoers were amused by some of central protag's reactions.

A widow opens a Pandora’s box of hidden secrets in awkwardly titled but engaging Japanese meller “Awaking.” Distinctly Nipponese in character, pic turns on antiquated norms that Western auds may find intriguing;.at sesh caught, even Tokyo moviegoers were amused by some of central protag’s reactions. However, an endearing lead perf by Jun Fubuki should shore up forgiveness of pic’s faults. Skedded for local release in spring 2007, film seems destined for fest circuit play elsewhere as well.

Sheltered Japanese housewife, Toshiko Sekiguchi (Fubuki) is faced with a series of challenges when her allegedly faithful husband drops dead after a heart attack. On the day of his burial, her hubby’s mobile phone rings, and, when Toshiko answers it, she knows right away that the female caller, Akiko Ito (Yoshiko Mita), is her husband’s former lover.

Acting in accordance with the rules of Japanese politeness, Toshiko invites her rival to pay her respects to the ashes of the man they shared. Rather than the ingenue Toshiko expects, however, Akiko, a noodle restaurateur, turns out to be a woman of her own age.

In a strong scene which demonstrates how civility can hide a cauldron of hostility, Akiko reveals that Toshiko’s husband bankrolled her restaurant, and she is afraid Toshiko will seek reimbursement as part of her husband’s estate.

While trying to grapple with that and other problems, Toshiko escapes to a downtown low-budget hotel to think things through.

At the hotel, Toshiko is hustled by an aging female raconteur, Shigeko Miyasato (Haruko Sato in a scene stealing role), who charges people for entertaining them with her tale of woe. Similarly, she charges to listen to other people’s problems.

While most even in super polite Japan would balk at this, so ingrained is Toshiko in co-dependence that she dutifully coughs up.

Yarn follows Toshiko as she learns self-respect. Toshiko’s rival Akiko angrily suggests that ignorance is a sin, but pic suggests that it is never too late for anyone to blossom.

While helmer Sakamoto takes advantage of Toshiko’s trips to the cinema to make a nod to Vittorio de Sica’s 1970 weepy “Sunflower,” a closer Western model for this Japanese pic is Paul Mazursky’s 1978 “An Unmarried Woman.”

Script shows awkward traces of its literary origins, with several uneven digressions. In particular script never seems sure how much attention it wants to give to Toshiko’s old school buddies.

Helming is steady, and thesps are solid. Tech credits are good quality.

Though some subsequent English lingo press materials have entitled pic “Awakening,” existing clumsy title actually more accurately reflects the original Japanese title which roughly means “spirited life is fun.”

Awaking

Japan

Production

A Cine Qua Non production, in association with Happinet Corp., Asahi Broadcasting, A Line. (International sales: Cine Qua Non, Tokyo.) Produced by Yukiko Shiii. Executive producers, Lee Bong-ou, Hiroshi Kawai, Fumihide Mizuno. Directed by Junji Sakamoto. Screenplay, Sakamoto, Haruko Imamura based on the novel "Tama Mo E" by Natsuo Kirino.

Crew

Camera (color), Ryo Otsuka; editor, Toshihide Fukano; music, coba; production designer, Mitsuo Harada; costume designer, Fumio Iwasaki; sound, (Dolby) Fumio Hashimoto. Reviewed at Tokyo Film Festival (competing), Oct. 22, 2006. Running time: 124 MIN.

With

Toshiko Sekiguchi - Jun Fubuki Akiko Ito - Yoshiko Mita Shigeko Miyasato - Haruko Kato Takayuki Sekiguchi - Akira Terao
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