A Leningrad Cowboy lookalike returns to the boondocks to cheer up his dying dad in “Mohican Comes Home,” an endearingly loud dramedy which reminds one that not all Japanese family dramas are gentle and restrained. Helmer-scribe Shuichi Okita (“The Story of Yonosuke”) gives viewers no downtime with characters who bond through brawling and wear their hearts, as well as bad hair days, on their sleeves. Thankfully, comic-timing is off-beat and the character-driven gags seldom feel glibly contrived. Considering how well Okita’s previous works traveled the fest circuit, “Mohican” should spike up interest among audience-friendly fests.
Okita’s fourth feature may be more high-pitched than his other low key comedies, but he still demonstrates a knack for sketching life in isolated outposts with quirky, sad-but-funny strokes, as he did in “The Chef of South Polar” and “The Woodsman and the Rain.” This time, he sets the yarn on Tobijima, a fictional island off the coast of Hiroshima, and celebrates the simple joys and down-to-earth temperament of island folk.
Eikichi Tamura (Ryuhei Matsuda) is the frontman of a hopeless death metal band in Tokyo. When he knocks up his g.f. Yuka (Atsuko Maeda), he reluctantly takes her with him to Tobijima to announce their upcoming wedding. Although he hasn’t been back for seven years, he plans a quick in-and-out. The family reunion sets the tone for the film’s wild mood swings. First, Eikichi’s dad Osamu (Akira Emoto) wallops him for being a deadbeat. Next thing we know, he throws an impromptu party to celebrate becoming a grandfather.
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Osamu collapses in a fit of drunken revelry and is taken to the hospital, where he’s diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. Eikichi and Yuka have no choice but to postpone their return. Instead of turning into a full-blown meller, the knockabout farce keeps coming. Far from wallowing in grief, the Tamuras up the ante in well-meaning but bumbling antics, typified by an episode in which Eikichi tries to satisfy Osamu’s sudden craving for pizza with a gonzo gesture. Other more affecting scenes include those of Eikichi’s mom Haruko (Masako Motai) bonding with Yuka, as when she showers her with gallons of noodle-dipping sauce. Though not an attention-grabbing role, Eikichi’s timid younger brother Koji (Yudai Chiba) serves as a foil for his brash sibling.
Eikichi’s punk-rocker attire, so out-of-place in his hometown, generates some wry visual gags. As his Pompadour hairstyle outgrows itself like a slowly toppling pyramid, it symbolizes his blending in with the local lifestyle again. Without building up to some back-patting reconciliation, audiences can gradually recognize that Eikichi is a chip off the old block: Osamu is a hardcore fan of 70s rock star Eikichi Yazawa, and his aging rockabilly suits are just as garish as his son’s Mohican hairdo. However, his musical ambitions take a different form — as the coach of a tone-deaf school brass band.
The moment father and son stop belittling each other and realize they’re chasing the same elusive dream, Eikichi hits on the best way to give his dad the perfect send-off. Ultimately, “Mohican,” like most family drama, extols two generations accepting each other for who they are; just not via sentimental soul-baring reconciliations. Notwithstanding gaffes and misunderstanding, the Tamuras come to terms with loss and reaffirm their appreciation of blood ties in their own kooky manner.
Personifying likable losers who take themselves dead seriously even when everyone else treats them as a joke, Emoto and Matsuda try to upstage each other with bawling, shouty perfs. Thankfully, Maeda’s there to tone them down with the same laid back charm she displayed as a slacker in “Tamako in Maoratorium.” With twinkling eyes and an unguarded smile, her Yuka is the kind of girl at ease in the most awkward situations, and her unruffled acceptance of motherhood gives the whole family hope and strength to get through their crisis. Usually an overly methodical thesp, Motai’s perf is also one of her most spontaneously emotional.
Shooting by Akiko Ashizawa, who shot Okita’s “The Chef of South Polar” and several of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s works, took place on four small islands off Seto Inner Sea (Setonaikai), yielding radiant visuals of blue skies and sunny beaches. Shoji Ikenaga’s lively score references but does not overplay Eikichi’s or Yuzawa’s music. Other tech credits are smooth.