Film Review: ‘Au revoir l’ete’

Koji Fukada's pleasant, Rohmeresque chamber piece might have benefited from bolder visual presentation.

With:

Fumi Nikaido, Mayu Tsuruta, Taiga, Kanji Furutachi, Kiki Sugino, Tadashi Otake, Ena Coshino.

A Rohmeresque comedy of tangled lovelives during an aunt and niece’s two weeks in a country hamlet, Koji Fukada’s “Au revoir l’ete” — the French phrase translating as “Farewell to Summer” — takes its time getting going, but eventually emerges a pleasant chamber piece whose character embroilments are more wryly amusing than hilarious. The film’s biggest weakness is its rather plain-looking visual presentation, which, with its squarish aspect radio, makes it seem less than bigscreen-worthy. Partly as a result, it looks likelier to find an audience in home formats; picking up a couple awards along the fest circuit, as the “Hospitalite” helmer’s prior efforts have, wouldn’t hurt.

Housesitting for a famous potter sister who’s off to Europe, 40-ish Tokyo single Mikie (Mayu Tsuruta) plans to use this hometown visit mostly to finish translating a book from Indonesian; her teenage niece Sakuko (Fumi Nikaido) is just along for the change of scenery. Among the old acquaintances Mikie encounters is former flame Ukichi (Kanji Furutachi), who’s abandoned his disreputable former ways for semi-legitimate employment managing a “business hotel” that is in fact a love hotel, where the world’s oldest profession quietly lives on.

Ukichi works to support tart-tongued daughter Tatsuko (Kiki Sugino), who’s studying at a nearby women’s college, though she takes the money not to better herself, but simply to stick it to a father she holds in contempt. His part-time helper is high-school dropout Takashi (Taiga), a refugee from the Fukushima nuclear accident; the teen’s parents relocated elsewhere, which is fine by him.

There’s unfinished business between Mikie and Ukichi, while Sakuko’s attempts to reel in Takashi are frustrated by his shy, easily distracted nature. Things get more complicated when the university hosts a lecture by art historian Nishida (Tadashi Otake), a married man who only accepted the invite in order to renew a sometime affair with Mikie, though she’s no longer thrilled by his attentions. Conflicts rise to a nice rolling boil during a birthday dinner for Tatsuko, with late highlights provided by Takashi’s act of rebellion at the love hotel and his very awkward speech at an anti-nuke rally.

“Au revoir l’ete” makes a tepid initial impression but gradually draws us into its understated, never-too-serious intrigues and the good-natured fun had at nicely etched characters’ expense. Performances are expert, pacing leisurely yet apt. A richer color palette and a less utilitarian sense of composition would have benefited this summery diversion, which is packaged with pro competence but little panache.

Film Review: 'Au revoir l'ete'

Reviewed at Tokyo Film Festival (competing), Oct. 19, 2013. Running time: 125 MIN.

Production:

(Japan) A Wa Entertainment and Atom X presentation. (International sales: Wa, Kamakura, Japan.) Produced by Kiki Sugino, Koji Fukuda. Executive producers, Kousuke Ono, Makoto Adachi, Mikiyo Miyata.

Crew:

Directed, written by Koji Fukada. Camera (color, HD, Kenichi Negishi; editor, Fukada; music, Jo Keita; sound, Chison Son; sound designer/re-recording mixer, Keita; assistant director, Ippei Ito.

With:

Fumi Nikaido, Mayu Tsuruta, Taiga, Kanji Furutachi, Kiki Sugino, Tadashi Otake, Ena Coshino.

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