You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘A Bride for Rip Van Winkle’

Adapting his own novel, 'Hana and Alice' director Shunji Iwai approaches romance with newfound sense of cynical amusement.

Haru Kuroki, Go Ayano, Cocco, Go Jibiki, Hideko Hara, Soko Wada, Tomoko Mariya, Akio Kaneda, Ririi.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4671274/

Japanese director Shunji Iwai rudely tears up the phony promise of marriage and bourgeois life in “A Bride for Rip Van Winkle,” a cruel yet riveting tale of a young wife’s inexorable fall from grace once she succumbs to the Mephistophelean services of a shady Mr. Fix It. Artfully subverting the spirit of such soulful, diaphanous romances as “Love Letter” and “Hana and Alice” from earlier in his own career, Iwai exposes the desperation and deceit involved in the search for love. Opening in Taiwan and Hong Kong ahead of its domestic release, the film should appeal to Iwai’s enormous female fan base in Asia, though it would be hard to reproduce the roaring success of his earlier hits.

Adapted from Iwai’s own novel of the same name, the film is shot in 6K digital and comprises a three-hour “Director’s Cut” and a two-hour theatrical version. Only the longer version will screen domestically, while both prints are available selectively for overseas release. While the story’s relation to “Rip Van Winkle” possibly hinges on a bed scene in the denouement, the slumber motif remains open to more layered readings.

Like Irving Washington’s protagonist, who wakes up after a 20-year time slip to find himself a stranger in a hometown changed beyond recognition, the two female protagonists are also lonely misfits, struggling to survive without any financial or social safety net in an intimidating megalopolis. Alternatively, Van Winkle is also the alter ego of central figure Nanami (Haru Kuroki), who’s been sleepwalking through life as a straight-laced teacher and docile housewife, neither knowing what she wants nor daring to fight for anything. Ejected violently from her soulless existence, she wakes up to a brave new world where she gains friendship and confidence.

The film begins tellingly with Nanami standing alone in a thronging crowd in Shibuya like a little girl lost. She’s waiting for her blind date Tetsuo (Go Jibiki, “United Red Army,” Iwai’s “April Story”), who calls the shots via text messages. Though they only met online and have little in common except their shared profession as teachers, they soon decide to tie the knot. Nanami’s timid personality, combined with a faint voice, make her a natural target for students’ pranks and bullying by the faculty. Her addiction to online social network “Planet” suggests a need to let off steam through another identity.

As the engaged couple makes wedding preparations, their power balance looks ever more lopsided: While Nanami’s parents strain to put up a cordial front to hide their divorce from the posh in-laws, Tetsuo is unimpressed with her lack of a single relative or friend to invite to the banquet. Through her chat group, she is introduced to Amuro (Go Ayano), a self-proclaimed jack of all trades who offers to round up some actors to pose as her kin at the reception. Yet her union is steeped in deception, and Nanami soon begins to suspect Tetsuo of fooling around. She confides in Amuro, who briskly offers private eye services for a hefty sum.

From then on, her fate takes a steep downward turn as she finds herself gulled, wronged, castigated and humiliated. The serpentine plot that unfolds becomes as surreal as a David Lynch film, while pacing is coolly assured yet relentlessly suspenseful. Though Nanami’s tailspin is so sudden and dire it strains credulity, her decisions, no matter how foolhardy, can be attributed to her submissive and impressionable nature, as well as social isolation, all of which the script has carefully laid out from the outset.

Curiously, whatever calamity befalls Nanami, Amuro is always just around the corner to offer some consolation or a helping hand (for a fee, of course). Just as she hits rock bottom, he finds her a job as a live-in maid in an empty mansion, where her main duty is to take care of the owner’s rare and deadly poisionous “pets.” There, she befriends Mashiro (Cocco), fellow maid and actress-on-call. They drift into a liaison that’s sisterly as well as covertly erotic, spending their days trying on a titillating range of maid uniforms and fluffy bridal dresses.

These heavily-wrought scenes, full of soft focus and giddy rotating shots, conjure a mood that’s both cloying and macabre, transporting the story into realms of fairy tale and Victorian Gothic. Like the heroine of “Jane Eyre” or “Beauty and the Beast,” Nanami is also an ingenue sent to a creepy mansion to serve a dark, brooding master. But who is the house’s mysterious owner? And why is Mashiro’s “Planet” handle Rip Van Winkle? The revelation bears out the cleverness of the script.

Incidentally, Kuroki’s role is a composite of previous performances in other films, though this is arguably the most complex of the lot. While her voice is aggravatingly whiny, Kuroki makes her neurosis extremely tactile as she trembles like a willow at the slightest harsh word. As a counter figure to Nanami, Cocco draws from her maverick background as a folk-rocker-writer-dancer to imbue Mashiro’s high-strung temperament with a fiery will.

However, the most intriguing character may be Amuro, whose motives remain impenetrable till the end. Hirono’s ordinary looks make his designs, when revealed, all the more ambiguous. Like the salesman who can talk a bird down from a tree, the thesp slyly keeps one wondering if he’s been gaslighting Nanami all along.

As befits a style doyen like Iwai, craft contributions are exquisite but on-the-nose. Under the lensing of Chigi Kanbe, the camera seems to float around in mid-air but he overdoes the slow motion and rotating shots, pushing the protagonists’ trauma to a shrill melodramatic level in certain scenes. Likewise, Mako Kuwabara’s score repeats J.S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068 and Cantata, BWV 147 ad nauseum.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'A Bride for Rip Van Winkle'

Reviewed at The Grand Cinema, Hong Kong, March 17, 2016. Running time: 179 MIN. (Original title: "Rippu ban winkuru no hanayome")

Production: (Japan) A Toei Co. release of a Rockwell Eyes, Nippon Eiga Special Channel, Toei Co., Pony Canyon, Hikari TV, Kinoshita Group, BS Fuji TV, Papado presentation of a Rockwell Eyes production. (International sales: Toei Co., Tokyo.) Produced by Shunji Iwai, Tomoyuki Miyagawa, Masashi Mizuno, Muneyuki Kii. Executive producer, Shigemichi Sugita.

Crew: Directed, written by Shunji Iwai, based on his own novel. Camera (color, widescreen), Chigi Kanbe; music/music supervisor, Mako Kuwabara; production designer, Kyoko Heya; costume designer, Hiromi Shintani; sound (Dolby Atmos); casting, Sakae Mizuno.

With: Haru Kuroki, Go Ayano, Cocco, Go Jibiki, Hideko Hara, Soko Wada, Tomoko Mariya, Akio Kaneda, Ririi.

More Film

  • Paul Dano arrives at the 71st

    'The Batman': Paul Dano to Play The Riddler

    Paul Dano is in talks to join Robert Pattinson in Matt Reeves and Warner Bros. “The Batman,” sources tell Variety. Though the studio would not confirm the role, insiders believe that Dano would be playing the classic comic villain The Riddler. Dano’s casting comes on the heels of Jonah Hill turning down an offer to [...]

  • Taylor SwiftMTV Video Music Awards, Arrivals,

    Vivendi's Third Quarter Results Up Nearly 17%, UMG Still Rising

    Vivendi saw its third quarter revenues increase by 16.7% to €3.97 billion ($4.4 billion) compared with the third quarter of 2018, once again boosted by the growth of Universal Music Group, while Canal Plus Group remained stable. For the first nine months of 2019, Vivendi’s revenues reached €11.3 billion ($12.5 billion), an increase of 14.6% [...]

  • This-is-Cristina

    FiGa Films Takes Salma Hayek-Exec Produced ‘This is Cristina’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    Leading international sales agency-production-distribution company, FiGa Films, has snagged all worldwide rights to “This is Cristina” (“Ella es Cristina”), the directorial debut of Chilean scribe Gonzalo Maza, who has co-written four of Sebastian Lelio’s films, including his Oscar-winning “A Fantastic Woman” and Berlin Festival winner “Gloria.” “It’s a pleasure to collaborate with Gonzalo, whose writing [...]

  • 180423_A24_Day_03B_0897.jpg

    How Bright Bulbs Enabled 'The Lighthouse's' Tough Black-and-White Shoot

    Early in principal photography on “The Lighthouse,” writer-director Robert Eggers asked cinematographer Jarin Blaschke, who was shooting on black-and-white film stock, if he thought they could capture the look they were going for digitally. Blaschke answered no: Digital wouldn’t let them achieve the texture they had in mind — “what we photography nerds would call [...]

  • Plaza Catedral

    Panama’s Abner Benaim Wraps ‘Plaza Catedral’ Starring Mexico’s Ilse Salas (EXCLUSIVE)

    Panama’s internationally best-known helmer, Abner Benaim (“Ruben Blades Is Not My Name”) has just completed the shoot for his second fiction feature film, “Plaza Catedral,” starring Mexico’s Ilse Salas (“The Good Girls”), and Manolo Cardona (“Narcos”). Salas plays a 42-year old grief-stricken woman, Alicia, who has severed her ties with married life and society. Her [...]

  • Mamoudou Athie

    'The Front Runner's' Mamoudou Athie Joins 'Jurassic World 3'

    Mamoudou Athie has joined the cast of the third installment in Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment’s “Jurassic World” saga. He joins Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, who will reprise their roles from the previous films, as well as Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum, who starred in the original mega-hit “Jurassic Park.” Colin [...]

  • RealD Cinema China

    RealD Launches Premium Cinema Options Worldwide

    Tech company RealD built itself up as the most popular system for projecting 3D in the United States. But lately the novelty has worn off for the format. RealD hasn’t been content sit back and watch as the 3D boom flattened out, though. Now the company is entering the world marketplace with a pair of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content