A femme-centric family drama tenderly unfolds as two sisters travel to the Japanese countryside to attend their estranged father’s funeral in “Capturing Dad,” a road movie/coming-of-ager that’s so wondrously quirky and simpatico with its subjects, it’ll hold auds’ hearts captive long after its magical end. Drawing on personal experience, highly promising tyro helmer Ryota Nakano proves that winsome characters, spontaneous cast chemistry and lightness of touch can go a long way toward ensuring a quality film. Thoughtful marketing could take this gem beyond festivals and family channels into niche theatrical play.
Twenty-year-old Hazuki (Erisa Yanagi) and 17-year-old sis Koharu (Nanoka Matsubara) live with their mother Sawa (Makiko Watanabe), a lottery ticketseller, in the serene town of Numazu, Shizuoka prefecture. On hearing that her ex-husband, Masataka (Satoshi Nikaido), is on his deathbed, Sawa hands her daughters an insanely bulky “get well soon” fruit basket and sends them off to bid their father farewell.
By the time they arrive in rural Ashigara, Masataka has passed away, and the girls find themselves outsiders at the funeral, fumbling to behave appropriately in front of their paternal relatives, whose attitudes range from batty to pushy to downright spiteful. Their blundering attempts to fulfill Sawa’s request — to take a photo of Masataka, so she can “laugh in his face” — provide much droll humor, and result in a charming, fantastical twist.
From Nagisa Oshima’s “The Ceremony” to Juzo Itami’s “The Funeral” and, to a degree, Yojiro Takita’s “Departures,” funerals have served as a wickedly ripe setting for family secrets and buried trauma to erupt despite the characters’ initially reserved, decorous surfaces. “Capturing Dad” retains that same bemused observer’s irony, but maintains a lighter tone and a more personal focus.
Nakano reveals his storytelling craft in the subtle way he intersperses the sisters’ attempt to make sense of how they feel about their father, who abandoned them for another woman when they were only kids, with flashbacks to a day at the park with their parents some 10 years earlier. First recalled hazily, the scene gains bittersweet resonance when replayed again from Sawa’s perspective.
Concisely structured to run a brisk 73 minutes, the screenplay’s most touching thread belongs to the girls’ sweetly awkward first meeting with their younger brother, Chihiro (Kaito Kobayashi, adorably mousy and stoical), which ripens into a blood-is-thicker-than-water bond.
Sawa remains the stalwart emotional center on and offscreen for the girls, whose moods, feelings and decisions always revolve around her, even in her absence. And the film’s real achievement is to show how two women on the cusp of adulthood learn to appreciate their free-spirited, sometimes worryingly childish mother’s virtues as a steadfast breadwinner and friend.
Without trying to steal the limelight, Watanabe (“Love Exposure”), who deservedly won the supporting actress prize at the Asia Pacific Film Festival, brings a spark to otherwise subdued scenes, as at a sushi dinner that epitomizes the family’s relaxed intimacy. Yanagi and Matsubara share an unforced rapport as the bickering siblings.
Tech credits are clean and effective, expertly integrating the sparse but beautiful Japanese rural backdrop into the protags’ journey.