A young shutterbug and his cohorts discover unexpected love in fest darling Shinji Aoyama’s simple, or simplistic, “Tokyo Park.” Suffused with a stripped-down innocence that can feel either fresh or belabored depending on auds’ receptivity, the pic is woven through with film references that, along with Aoyama’s 15 years in the biz, proclaim something more is going on here than the naive, over-sweet tale lets on. The Locarno jury certainly thought so, awarding Aoyama a special prize, though most viewers are likely to find the helmer’s desired message more effective than its execution.
Unfailingly polite college kid Koji (Haruma Miura) builds a photography portfolio by taking snapshots of families in Tokyo’s parks. He’s accosted by dentist Takashi Hatsushima (You Takahashi), who initially berates him for invading people’s privacy and then hires him to tail his wife, Yurika (Haruka Igawa), and daughter through their daily strolls in Tokyo’s green spaces.
Koji shares an apartment with the ghost of his former roommate, Hiro (Shota Sometani), once the b.f. of free spirit Miyu (Nana Eikura). Only Koji can see and hear Hiro, much to Miyu’s frustration; Hiro’s presence is a too-obvious illustration of the inability for anyone in the pic to move on with their lives, each character locked in the limbo of the present and requiring someone else to show them the way out.
This includes Koji’s older stepsister, Misaki (Manami Konishi), who’s nursing an undeclared love for her stepbrother that Miyu clearly sees through. About the only truly balanced character is a gay restaurant owner (Takashi Ukaji), who understands that a soulmate doesn’t always come from an expected place.
Aoyama (“Eureka,” “Sad Vacation”) brings an odd unsophistication to the proceedings in story, character and lensing. Dialogue is delivered in a kind of vacuum, as if the atmosphere were sucked out, and despite its outdoor sequences the pic exists in an airless state. The helmer appears to be trying on a different style from that of his previous works, but the results feel more generic than pure and wistful. Cinephiles, however, may get a kick out of passing references to films such as “Blow-Up” and “Vertigo,” and even a touch of Woody Allen in the jazzy, nicely upbeat score.
One element lingers, and that’s the use of parks. Tokyo isn’t exactly known for its green spaces, especially in cinema, which makes their appearance here refreshing and thematically relevant. The midsection drops the park scenes for too long, deadening the pic’s center before a welcome return toward the end.
Thesps are an attractive lot; Miura seems pulled fresh from the pages of Tiger Beat, and his interaction with Eikura has a naturalness that’s often lacking in the other characters. Lensing is simpler and more straightforward than in Aoyama’s work, registering as pleasant if bland.