Japanese helmer Naomi Kawase continues to steer a strictly arthouse course with “Nanayo,” an exercise in largely nonverbal dynamics throwing together a Japanese woman and a French man in a Thai house where traditional massage is taught. Though more upbeat than Kawase’s Cannes Grand Prix winner, “The Mourning Forest,” this search for inner peace shows the same reluctance to supply much in the way of character and motivation. Not without pleasures for patient viewers, but also stumbling awkwardly through tonal shifts, the mood-piece is unlikely to travel much beyond fests. Pic went out locally in limited release Nov. 1.
Searching for a hotel in Bangkok, 30ish Japanese woman Saiko (Kyoko Hasegawa) is driven to a semi-rural area by shifty-looking cabbie Marvin (Kittipoj Mankang). Fearing robbery or worse, Saiko abandons her luggage and runs into the arms of Greg (Gregoire Colin), a young Frenchman dressed in the cheesecloth garb adopted by Westerners chilling out in exotic locales.
Greg takes Saiko to the house where he’s being taught massage by Amari (Netsai Todoroki), a friendly earth-mother type with an adorable son, Toi (real-life offspring Yohei Todoroki). In a strained about-face, Marvin reappears, not as a threatening cab driver but as Amari’s kind-hearted brother. Her nerves eventually settled, Saiko decides to stay and become Amari’s student.
Without a common language — the hosts speak only Thai and Saiko understands just a tiny fraction of Greg’s broken English — the strangers soon become one big, happy family. Wafer-thin screenplay relies almost exclusively on facial gestures and body language, with some gentle comic touches supplied by cheeky Toi and a dope-smoking old maid.
Other than Greg being gay, almost nothing is ever revealed about anyone’s backgrounds or why the foreigners are in Thailand. That’s OK for viewers willing to go with the film’s languidflow, but from any perspective, things go awry with a late stab at introducing conflict into the cheery group. Subsequent developments are awkwardly imposed and unconvincing; even super-relaxed Greg is turned into a ball of rage without good cause.
Making the most of the least developed character, Kasegawa is appealing as the visitor whose fantasies of mutual massage under moonlight with a handsome local monk (Jun Murakami) rep the film’s visual highlight. Colin is fine as the sensitive guy, and Todoroki Sr. delights as the tutor who understands minds just as well as bodies.
Filming in lush greenery in Samutsongkram province, south of Bangkok, lenser Caroline Champetier uses a steady handheld camera to capture some intoxicating closeups of hands at work and faces responding blissfully to treatment. Rest of the tech package is pro.