Review: ‘Last Words’

Impending death motivates a teenager to rekindle an imagined romance of her prepubescent years in "Last Words."

Impending death motivates a teenager to rekindle an imagined romance of her prepubescent years in “Last Words,” a dark and deliberately paced Japanese meller. Prolific director Ryuichi Hiroki keeps the viewer engaged, but low-budget pic lacks the emotional oomph of his thematically connected 2005 film, “It’s Only Talk,” about a distaff manic depressive. Fest play for this July release is assured, but pic will disappoint fans of Hiroki’s more sexually charged fare, such as “M” (2006).

Story begins as Tokyo high schooler Nagisa (Maki Horikata), 17, learns she has cancer and only three months to live. Without bothering to inform her father (Takeshi Wakamatsu), Nagisa hightails it to the seaside village where she was raised. Motivated by a crush that has survived her six-year absence, and keeping quiet about her condition, Nagisa seeks out and platonically stays with 25-year-old Satoru (Shunsuke Kubozuka), a small-town underachiever.

Nagisa’s forced, cheerful exterior is shattered when she realizes the object of her desire is sleeping with married-but-separated barkeep Eriko (Saki Takaoka). Apple of Eriko’s eye is her 6-year-old daughter, Madoka (Chinami Iwamoto).

Disturbed by her grandmother’s recent death and by being the centerpiece in her parents’ tug of war, Madoka finds a kindred spirit in the runaway Nagisa. But in her frustration that her romantic fantasy cannot be realized, Nagisa disrupts this fragile “family” with potentially devastating results.

Based on an episode of a popular Nipponese tube series, story is a simple one, but Hiroki’s effective helming gives dramatic impact to the slight scenario. Minimalism is hardly new to Japanese cinema, but helmer’s use of extended silences in scenes contemplating death are powerful in their intimate gravitas, and vigorously lift otherwise functional performances.

Lensing has that flat quality favored by Japanese indies, and pic makes frugal use of real locations. Other credits are pro.

Last Words

Japan

Production

A BS-i, Happinet, King Records, GDH production. (International sales: Tokyo Broadcasting System, Tokyo.) Produced by Andrew Tamon Niwa. Co-producers, Yukihiko Yamaguchi, Yoshiro Nagata, Yasushi Uchida. Directed by Ryuichi Hiroki. Screenplay, Chiho Watanabe.

Crew

Camera (color), Tomoyuki Mizuguchi; editor, Etsuko Kimura; music, Koji Endo; art director, Yoichi Sakurai; sound, in Dolby Digital. Reviewed at PiFan Film Festival, South Korea, July 14, 2007. Running time: 97 MIN.

With

Maki Horikata, Shunsuke Kubozuka, Saki Takaoka, Chinami Iwamoto, Takeshi Wakamatsu.
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