The quiet, arty Japanese meller "Echo of Silence" boasts impressive, wintry scenery but leaves auds yearning for much more.

The quiet, arty Japanese meller “Echo of Silence” boasts impressive, wintry scenery but leaves auds yearning for much more. Feature bow by Japanese thesp-cum-helmer Atsuro Watabe is a restrained piece that plays to the strengths of its setting but fails to go beyond an actors’ vignette in which the helmer gives himself the showiest part. Atmospherics and amiable perfs will clear the way on the fest circuit, but overall, pic is too slight to find domestic or international commercial success.

At pic’s center is Fusako (Saki Takaoka), a charming but apparently lonely, unfulfilled woman who works at a horse ranch at Yunni, her Hokkaido hometown. With her pharmacist father (Toshiyuki Kitami) still recovering from the death of his wife, Fusako helps out with deliveries and seems a clear second banana when her successful but humble sister (Leona Hirota), a model, visits from Tokyo.

While making a delivery for her father in nearby Yubari, Fusako meets a mute, mechanically minded young man (Watabe) who provides her with shelter from a snowstorm. Later, on a second errand, they establish a warm rapport that borders on romance. A sudden accident causes a narrative reversal and also reveals that Fusako is not entirely what she seems at the outset, exposing the director’s sleight-of-hand. An awkward denouement feels artificial and shallow, compounding the sense that the audience has been cheated by the helmer’s manipulation.

Perfs are natural and charming on the whole, though pic seems to include flubbed lines as well as splendid improvisations. Takaoka (“A Long Walk”) shines as the distaff protag.

Outdoor lensing is generally beautiful and makes good use of Hokkaido snowscapes, but the digital lensing is spoiled by warm lighting and emphasis on wobble-cam is irritating. Given that the camera was operated by four different cinematographers, including Watabe, it’s difficult to know who to praise and who to blame. Sound is well managed, and other tech credits are pro.

Echo of Silence

Japan

Production

A Laetitia production. (International sales: Laetitia, Tokyo.) Produced by Motoki Ishida. Executive producer, Kohei Matsuki. Directed by Atsuro Watabe. Screenplay, Yoshikazu Okada, from a story by Watabe.

Crew

Camera (color), Hisashi Shimizu, Mitsuyuki Shibata, Natsuyo Nakamura, Watabe; editor, Ikuko Tamaki; music, Gota Yashiki; production designer, Yohei Ishikawa; sound (Dolby), Mitsugu Shiratori. Reviewed at Tokyo Film Festival (competing), Oct. 18, 2008. Running time: 94 MIN.

With

Saki Takoaka, Atsuro Watabe, Leona Hirota, Miki, Kazuma Suzuki, Toshiyuki Kitami, Eri Watanabe.
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