After creating a modern-day silent film with his widely traveled first feature, “Clouds of Yesterday,” writer-helmer Takushi Tsubokawa is on slightly more conventional ground with “Aria.” Not exactly a sophomore slump, but treading a thin line between delicacy and dullness, gently absurdist pic about a widower on a road trip will appeal to fest auds and others with a taste for rarefied, slow-moving whimsy.
Withdrawn since his young wife died, piano tuner Ota (Masayuki Shionoya) boards in Kojima’s (Simon Yotsuya) antique shop/home. When Kojima’s old puppeteer friend Kuzo (Masao Komatsu) falls ill, his last request is that Ota somehow find the piano that once belonged to his own late accompanist spouse. Joined by Kuzo’s antic apprentice (Shojiro Kataoka) and a woman who shows up claiming to be the deceased’s daughter (Mariko Takahashi), taciturn Ota goes on a backroads search for the missing instrument. He also stops at every beach en route, looking for the unidentified one in a photo, where his own beloved had wanted her ashes scattered. Eccentric character detours amuse, but technically polished pic sometimes simply drags, aiming for a pathos its stone-faced protag doesn’t quite earn.