Family squabbles dominate the waning years of an elderly widower in a wintry town in the far north of Japan in Masahiro Kobayashi’s beautifully shot but dramatically thin “The Man Who Walked on Snow.” Repetitive and slight, the film, despite its handsome visuals, doesn’t connect emotionally, the characters remaining as cold as the chilly landscape. Commercial prospects, outside Japan, are slight, though there could be festival interest.
Mashike is a small town on Hokkaido island. Once active as a fishing port, it is slowly dying, having been fished out over the years. The harsh climate deters tourists, too. This is where Nobuo (Ken Ogata) used to make and sell home-brewed sake, but since the death of his beloved wife two years earlier he’s retired. His elder son, Ryoichi (Teruyuki Kagawa) left home 12 years earlier to become a musician, but his life has been a failure. The younger son, Yasu (Yasufumi Hayashi) stayed to look after his father, but his girlfriend, Keiko (Fusako Urabe), is getting sick of his unwillingness to do anything productive with his life.
Every day, in the freezing cold, old Nobuo obsessively walks the streets of the town, sometimes hardly able to stand upright against the driving wind. He always drops by the local salmon farm, where pretty Michiko (Sayoko Ishii) works. He flirts harmlessly with the girl, who is thinking of leaving for Okinawa, in the far south, but who might be taking the old man seriously as a marriage prospect.
Events build up to a troubled family reunion, which culminates in arguments and recriminations, before everyone ends up sadder but wiser. It’s a simple and well-worn premise, and there are really no new insights in Kobayashi’s predictable treatment.
Pic looks great thanks to lensing of the wintry location by Nobuyasu Kita, but repetitive use of music from “Carnival of the Animals,” by Saint-Saens, including the “Aquarium” theme used to better effect by Terrence Malick in “Days of Heaven” (and the Cannes film fest theme) becomes wearysome.