One-man-band filmmaker Kotaro Ikawa makes a fine entry into features with “Lost in Tokyo,” a fluid, loose and tender look at two young men quietly mourning the loss of their buddy. Although Ikawa cites in the pressbook that Cassavetes’ “Husbands” was a touchstone for his pic, the new film is different in many respects. Pic’s strong indie cred won’t translate into more than a vid release in East Asian markets (with a theatrical bid possible only in select arthouse centers), but it will certainly support its journey through the fest circuit, where Ikawa’s name will be established as one to watch.
Color-saturated prelude plays nostalgically, as 20-ish buddies Takkun (Takuya Fukushima), Takachan (Takahiro Iwasaki) and Eiji (Eiji Kamikura) recall their college years when they formed a rock band. Now, Eiji is in law school while Takkun flounders as a singer in a lowly band.
In an extremely elliptical cut to two of the guys dressed in black suits, it becomes clear that Eiji has suddenly died, and that the other two have just returned from his funeral. To g.f. Nao’s (Nao Saito) dismay, Takachan’s response is to get drunk with Takkun. The pair is soon off gallivanting through Tokyo doing everything and anything to avoid talking about the scariest thing of all: their futures.
With his shock of blonde hair, Takkun still attempts a rebel stance, but as the evening drifts into the wee hours and then into dawn, this pose appears uncertain. Helmer Ikawa captures this perfectly in an extended scene where Takachan drags Takkun to a recording studio, where they have been waiting for him to record some tracks with his band. The drunk singer flubs take after take, pressing his bandmates’ patience, but then manages to collect himself for one solid recording.
“Lost in Tokyo” is composed of such small sequences that speak volumes about the dreams and limitations of basically decent young men who have neither bought into the corporate rat-race nor determined an independent course for themselves. In this, the Cassavetes film that Ikawa’s most recalls isn’t “Husbands,” but his own 1959 debut, “Shadows.”
If the film is never quite as emotionally effective as it wants to be, it does conclude with a remarkable 15-minute shot trained exclusively on Takkun, finally sharing some of his emotions about Eiji with an old g.f. This comes as a stunner, since the viewer will then realize that Eiji has never been mentioned during the course of pic’s three-day bender.
The time and space that Ikawa allows his actors gives Fukushima and Iwasaki room to create vividly real characterizations of men who aren’t quite fully formed. There’s a sense in Ikawa’s shaky, even unstable camerawork that he’s trying to get a handle on these guys as well. By the knockout closer, pic extends less a feeling of understanding than one of empathy.
Vid work is on the low-grade end, often robbing the film of the visual texture it needs to be a fully satisfying cinematic work. Jun Sekiguchi’s lonely guitar music ushers in a slightly mournful note that the characters can’t bring themselves to express.