Only those already won over by recent Shinji Aoyama will coddle to “Sad Vacation,” the prolific helmer’s latest overlong, confused meditation on family and abandonment. Uncertain whether to argue for the weakness or strength of parental ties, pic ultimately takes both sides, reducing any insightfulness as it stumbles over a multiplicity of characters. As usual, Aoyama weaves together interesting threads but has difficulty harnessing them to something cohesive. Titled after a Johnny Thunders song written in memory of Sid Vicious, “Sad Vacation” won’t be going on any extended holidays.
An opening title briefly provides background info, partly derived from helmer’s “Eureka.” Kenji (Tadanobu Asano) has been looking after a traumatized Kozue (Aoi Miyazaki, reprising her “Eureka” role) after she witnessed her brother’s murderous rampage some years earlier. Kenji’s own emotional baggage is pretty heavy: mom Chiyoko (Eri Ishida) abandoned the family when he was young and his father committed suicide.
While assisting some Chinese smugglers, Kenji rescues young Achun, whose father died on the journey over. Forever on the move, Kenji gets a job as a driver for some bar girls; by chance, he also picks up Mamiya, who turns out to be his mother’s new husband. Still nursing wounds of abandonment, Kenji insinuates himself into Chiyoko’s new family to explode it from within and get revenge.
Emotions and attachments form too suddenly, making it difficult at times to know what Aoyama is getting at, though he’s consistently dealt with how families embrace or reject their members. Everyone in “Sad Vacation” either is an orphan or would prefer to be one, including Achun, who isn’t especially bothered that his father died in front of him and that he’s in a foreign land. Mamiya’s close-knit business establishment offers a substitute family to the down-and-out that’s more honest than ties of blood, but by the end, Aoyama turns the tables and argues for the primacy of the parental bond.
Cast is composed of the usual Aoyama entourage, all fine in their roles. Colors are largely filtered and pale, while framing occasionally deliberately cuts off heads and other body parts. There’s a too-frequent use of cuts that jump several seconds ahead of the action, as if Aoyama felt he needed to shorten the running time by editing out extraneous extended moments; unfortunately, the device adds to an air of confusion.