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Funuke

Sibling rivalry is the source of violence and creativity in amusing Japanese dramedy "Funuke." Based on a contempo novel, pic is rarely laugh-out-loud funny, but maintains a wry tone that keeps the drama engaging.

With:
With: Eriko Sato, Aimi Satsukawa, Masatoshi Nagase, Hiromi Nagasaku

Sibling rivalry is the source of violence and creativity in amusing Japanese dramedy “Funuke.” Based on a contempo novel, pic is rarely laugh-out-loud funny, but maintains a wry tone that keeps the drama engaging. Unerring perfs enhance what could have been mere caricatures while HD lensing is generally muted and could seal pic’s fate as primarily a fest item. Local release is likely to be confined to arthouse niche.

Pic begins awkwardly with 18-year-old, plain-Jane Kiyomi (Aimi Satsukawa) witnessing the death of her parents in a country road accident. Yarn kicks in to gear when Kiyomi’s sister and comely wannabe actress Sumika (Eriko Sato) returns to the family’s small rural homestead to collect her inheritance before the bodies are cold. Big brother and local wood-cutter Shinji (Masatoshi Nagase) informs Sumika about cash flows and tells her she has to wait. Since Sumika can’t afford to return to Tokyo, the out-of-work actress takes up residency in her old room alongside her siblings and Shinji’s desperately cheerful wife, Machiko (Hiromi Nagasaku), who does her best to relieve familial tensions with forced joviality.

Flashbacks reveal that sisterly sibling rivalry began its fever-pitch intensity four years previous when Sumika begged her father for money to kickstart her acting career in Tokyo. The conflict escalated when, denied the bankroll, Sumika threatened Dad with a knife. However, the family was more horrified and ashamed when Kiyomi dramatized the domestic imbroglio in manga form and successfully had it published. Even more impatient to escape, Sumika was reduced to prostitution to finance her trip.

After her parent’s death and no money forthcoming, Sumika finds herself back at square one. Reading about an award-winning director in a magazine, Sumika writes to the helmer for an audition and instead receives a series of letters that encourage the self-centered, fledgling actress to write a scenario about her family. Paradoxically, with success within her grasp, Sumika becomes increasingly tolerant of her wacky clan.

Literary tone suggests helmer’s script is faithful to the original novel, but film never really finds its feet as a comedy and endures on indie charms. Helming is unobtrusively smart, but pic is essentially performance-driven. Sato is enjoyably reprehensible as the ambitious and probably talentless actress who is all ego and beauty. Satsukawa is strong as the long-suffering bookworm waiting to turn. Digital lensing is deliberately soft and other tech credits are pro. Untranslated title is a contraction of original Japanese title and means: a coward or literally a person without guts.

Funuke

Japan

Production: A Phantom Films presentation of a Monster Films, Phantom Films, TYO, Amuse Soft Entertainment Inc., Sony Music Entertainment Inc. production. (International sales: Phantom Films, Tokyo.) Produced by Shuji Kakimoto. Directed, written by Daihachi Yoshida, based on the novel by Yukiko Motoya.

Crew: Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Shoichi Ato, Atsushi Ozawa; editor, Kumi Okada; music, Soichiro Suzuki, Yoshiaki Kusaka; production designer, Yasuaki Harada; sound, (Dolby), Masato Yano. Reviewed at Salle Jules Epstein, Cinema Francais, Paris. (In Cannes Film Festival -- Critics' Week), May. 10, 2007. Running time: 112 MIN.

With: With: Eriko Sato, Aimi Satsukawa, Masatoshi Nagase, Hiromi Nagasaku

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