×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Asako I & II’ (Netetemo Sametemo)

A less provocative or penetrating follow-up to the director’s last relationship epic, 'Happy Hour.'

Director:
Tomoka Shibasaki
With:
Masahiro Higashide, Erika Karata

1 hour 59 minutes

In enigmatic romance “Asako I & II,” the willful heroine can’t choose between two lovers who look exactly the same. Japanese independent director Ryusuke Hamaguchi uses this rather unlikely premise to explore the mysteries of the heart. Catapulted straight to the main competition in Cannes without prior participation at other sections, the helmer’s ninth work boasts a momentous leap in his career. Yet, compared to his previous five-hour epic relationship drama “Happy Hour,” this is less ambitious and lacks the raw honesty or spellbinding intensity of that film.

Adapting a novel of the same title by Tomoka Shibasaki, Hamaguchi extols his source for a compelling representation of love as a mystic experience. However, what gets transferred to the screen becomes more like banal indecision.

When Asako (Erika Karata) encounters her first love Baku Torii (Masahiro Higashide) in her hometown Osaka, it’s staged like a fantasy sequence in a music video: While firecrackers pop in slow motion around them, Baku turns, catches her eye, and walks over to kiss this complete stranger. With a thick mop of hair, kicking around in flip-flops and dungarees, Baku is the quintessential Bohemian. Asako’s BFF Haruyo (Sairi Ito) is vehemently against the match, sensing at once that he’ll break her heart.

The couple’s attraction is abashedly sexual, as manifested in a slightly comical scene when they’re thrown off their motorbike in an accident, and end up making out on the highway. While visiting the country home of their mutual friend Okazaki, Baku ducks out to get bread and doesn’t come back till the next morning. A sign of what’s to come, when six months later, he says he’s off to buy shoes and never comes back.

Despite the brevity of the relationship, losing Baku haunts Asako enough for her to move to Tokyo, where she finds work in a coffee shop. Two years later, she happen’s to meet Ryohei Maruto (also played by Higashide), who’s a dead-ringer for Baku. A marketing executive for a sake company, he’s a straitlaced salaryman who’s warm and dependable — in other words, the polar opposite of her ex.

As if responding to a special vibe he gets from Asako, Ryohei courts her persistently. Asako tries to pull away as she doesn’t want to be reminded of Baku, but as intuitively as she fell for her first boyfriend, she realizes after a certain point that she loves Ryohei. Her feelings change again when she learns, through a chance reunion with Haruyo, that Baku has become a supermodel.

Although Higashide makes a painstaking effort to distinguish the two roles with stylish flourishes such as different hairstyles, body language, and most impressive of all, a broad Osaka dialect for Baku, and standard Japanese with a Kansai (West Japan) inflection, the two personas don’t amount to more than a formulaic dichotomy between the boring nice guy and dangerous bad boy that form love triangles in potboiler romances.

The story doesn’t really provide logical reasons or psychological motives for why Asako falls in or out of love with either man. More importantly, she is the least cognizant of her own emotions, even though she talks incessantly about them to Ryohei and her own friends. Toward the end, her impulsive behavior makes her no less capricious than the shiftless Baku. The Japanese title, which roughly means “whether asleep or awake,” reflects her ambiguous state of mind.

The film ends on a pseudo-philosophical note, implying that life, like the river that runs below the couple’s new house in Osaka, is filthy or beautiful depending on how one looks at it. If this is intended to help make the audience to embrace the heroine for all the damage she’s done to herself and others, it’s an uphill struggle. Karata’s exquisite porcelain-doll face makes her an even more brittle, alienating presence.

As in “Happy Hour,” it’s the ensemble acting that lifts “Asako” out of melodramatic clichés. Koji Seto and Rio Yamashita, who play Ryohei’s colleague Kushihashi and Asako’s flatmate Maya respectively, provide a much more lively and down-to-earth ambiance when the four interact. Most notably in a scene when Kushihashi harshly criticizes aspiring actress Maya’s line delivery. The way he speaks his mind on a first meeting is rare for a Japanese social occasion, and perhaps points to the underlying moral of the story, which is the need to voice and examine one’s hunches and emotions openly and honestly, whether one understands them or not.

Film Review: 'Asako I & II' (Netetemo Sametemo)

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (competing), May 14, 2018. Running time: 119 MIN. (Original title: “Netemo Sametemo”)

Production: (Japan-France) A Nagoya Broadcasting Network, Bitters End, Comme Des Cinemas presentation of a C&I Entertainment production. (International sales: MK2 Films, Paris.) Producers: Yuji Sadai, Teruhisa Yamamoto, Yasuhiko Hattori. Executive producers:. Co-producer: Masa Sawada.

Crew: Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi. Screenplay: Sachiko Tanaka, Hamaguchi, based on the novel by Tomoka Shibasaki. Editor: Azusa Yamazaki. Music: Tofubeats.  

With: Masahiro Higashide, Erika Karata, Rio Yamashita, Koji Seto, Sairi Ito, Daiichi Watanabe. (Japanese dialogue)

More Film

  • Disney's French Chief Jean-Francois Camilleri Exits,

    Disney's French Chief Jean-Francois Camilleri Exiting, Helene Etzi Upped

    Jean-Francois Camilleri is leaving Disney after more than 30 years and will replaced as the head of its French operation by Helene Etzi. Sources said Camilleri’s departure was his own decision. He announced his exit on Twitter, Tuesday, and paid tribute to his team and colleagues at Disney, thanking them for the “unique adventure.” In [...]

  • dumbo Tim Burton

    Film Review: Tim Burton's 'Dumbo'

    The key image in Walt Disney’s 1941 “Dumbo” is something out of a fairy-tale daydream: Dumbo, the baby elephant with long-lashed goo-goo eyes, a cuddly grin, and ears as long and floppy as wings, flapping those ears to soar around a circus big top, flying over the crowds with a freedom as touching as it [...]

  • Guys and Dolls

    'Guys and Dolls' Getting Remade at TriStar (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Guys and Dolls,” the venerable Broadway musical, is set to return to the big screen. TriStar Pictures has purchased remake rights to the original Damon Runyon short stories about gamblers and gangsters that inspired the shows, as well as the rights to the Broadway musical with its book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows and [...]

  • Captain America: Civil War

    'Black Widow,' 'Little Women,' 'Charlie's Angels' Among Most Tracked Female Directed Projects, IMDb Says (EXCLUSIVE)

    Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women,” Cate Shortland’s “Black Widow,” Patty Jenkins’s “Wonder Woman 2,” and Elizabeth Banks’s “Charlie’s Angles” are among the ten most tracked projects on IMDbPro. Ava DuVernay (“Selma”), Sofia Coppola (“Lost in Translation”), Chloé Zhao (“The Rider”), and Susanne Bier (“After the Wedding”) rank among the most widely followed female directors on the [...]

  • European Union Placeholder

    European Parliament Gives Final Approval to Controversial Article 13 Copyright Directive

    The European Parliament on Tuesday gave final approval to Article 13, a controversial part of a wider directive that shakes up the rules around copyright in the European Union. The new rules will have ramifications for online platforms, content owners and creators, and the general public. The proposed new framework, now approved, has sparked widespread [...]

  • Fox Disney Layoffs

    Fox Studio Quickly Fades Away as Disney Starts Work on Integration

    In the waning days of 21st Century Fox, there was a run on the searchlight. As Disney neared the completion of its $71.3 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox, employees on the Fox lot rushed into the studio’s gift shop to pick up mugs, shot glasses, sweatshirts, hats and T-shirts emblazoned with 20th Century Fox’s [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content