Picture a combination of “Local Hero” and “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” filtered through Emir Kusturica for a Japanese family-friendly market, and you might get Isao Yukisada’s “Into the Faraway Sky.” Pic about a Hokkaido community’s stance against an unwanted airport is off-the-wall enough to make it to fests, but ultimately too long and sentimental to succeed anywhere else. Auds beyond Asia may regard this as kiddie fare, but sexual and scatological jokes will unsettle PC programmers. Swamped by the “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”/”Transformers” onslaught in August, pic garnered moderate local biz.
Handsome Tokyo kid Ryunosuke Kusunoki (Ryunosuke Kamiki) is a new arrival in an unnamed Hokkaido village, to which his government official father, Mr. Kusonoki (Tomokazu Miura), has been sent to acquire the necessary land to push through a new airport.
Mr. Kusunoki is the latest of five emissaries who have failed to persuade the highly organized farm community. Bulwarked by Stetson-wearing gang leader Tenbo, the farmers who hang out at the saloon-cum-brothel run by madam Michi (Shinobu Otake) have sent the previous government reps packing.
Ryunosuke has his own problems trying to fit in at his new school and finds himself at loggerheads with local farm boy Kohei Tsuchida (Yuma Sasano). Rough diamond Kohei first sees the city slicker as a rival, but soon the pair become amigos, amusing themselves with activities like exploding cow patties over the villagers.
As Ryunosuke bonds with the locals, he increasingly turns against his father. Mr. Kusunoki also finds himself confronted by Kohei’s father, a wacky vagabond biologist (Fumiyo Kohinata), who rallies the local community with an ecological cause just as the government official is starting to make headway.
While kiddie protags take centerstage, subsidiary characters abound, frequently hijacking the narrative. A nerd due to marry a schoolteacher who doesn’t love him, an intellectually stunted pigeon collector, a girl who believes her father was abducted by UFOs and several “Rio Bravo”-styled prosties who frequently flash their panties are just some of the idiosyncratic personalities that flood the film.
Additionally, the entire community likes to sing and dance to the brothel’s band, which seems to have been trained by the musicians in Kusturica’s 1998 film “Black Cat, White Cat.”
Film impresses with its humor and vitality for the first 90 minutes, but in the final hour, sentimentalism creeps in, and, except for one unexpected twist, puts a stranglehold on the narrative. As is commonplace in Japanese films, characters are encouraged to rebel against conformity and follow their dreams, but as a flashback framing device reveals in pic’s opening scene, the airport will be built anyway.
While one contempo character dismisses this with a pithy observation of irony, pic shies away from the bitter reality that could have pushed it to a tougher, superior level.
Helmer’s ability to manage a wide array of characters without confusion is admirable. However, while individual scenes are well handled, Yukisada’s script eventually suffers from the surfeit of story strands.
Young and old thesps alike seem to be enjoying the romp, but the late appearance of Fumiyo Kohinata as the idiosyncratic biologist gives pic’s second half a much-needed lift.
Lensing by regular Yukisada collaborator Jun Fukumoto is appealingly slick.
Eastern European-style music is underlined by some Russian signage at the brothel — unsurprising, given Hokkaido’s proximity to the Siberian region. Rationale for infrequent chapter titles indicating the phases of the moon in Hebrew is more perplexing. Production design is not always realistic, but is glossy and easy on the eyes. Other tech credits are pro.