Hayashida is a naturally empathetic kid. Unfortunately, that does not impress a
lot of third graders. However, he might gain a little bit of confidence through
time spent with his five friends and their bombshell student teacher. Being a
kid is hard, but it still has its moments in Katsuhito Ishii, Kanoko Kawaguchi
& Atsushi Yoshioka’s Hello! Junichi,
which screens as part of the 2014 Japan Cuts: the New York Festival of Contemporary Japanese Film (special festival trailer here).
makes quite an impression on everyone, especially Hayashida’s romantically
frustrated homeroom teacher. However, he still only has eyes for Maeda. During
art class, he found himself borrowing a bunny eraser from her, but he has yet
to gird up the courage to return it. This is the sort of thing Anna-Sensei
picks up on immediately. Initially, this intimidates Hayashida, just like
everything else in life, except more so. Yet, he comes to trust her when she
defends him and his mates when they get into a tight spot.
Junichi’s parents are well to do, he spends more time with more-with-it-than-he-seems
grandfather. Unfortunately, his friend Masato Kuramoto’s home life is much more
difficult. Money is tight, so his soon-to-be single mother must work multiple
jobs. To help him give her special birthday, Hayashida and his friends agree to
stage a special concert for her, with Anna-Sensei’s help, of course.
terms of tone, Hello is reminiscent
of Ishii’s The Taste of Tea, but it
substitutes moments of wild but terrestrial zaniness for the magical realism of
his Tochigi-set family pastoral. Co-directed with two of his workshop
graduates, Hello balances a battalion
of characters with ease. They mostly maintain a mood of wistful whimsy, but it
still forthrightly addresses the issue of bullying.
Mitsushima, who took no prisoners in Sion Sono’s Love Exposure, once again becomes a force of nature as Anna-Sensei,
the Miss Jean Brodie we always wanted. She develops some real chemistry with
her young co-stars and looks great beating on the various adults who cross her.
Still, young Amon Kabe distinguishes himself, carrying the narrator-chief POV
duties like a good little soldier.
Yohei Hotta and Rio Sasaki are remarkably compelling as the gruff but sensitive
Kuramoto and the forceful aspiring pop idol, Kayo Tanaka. Frankly, the all the third
grade supporting players are quite assured. It is some of their adult
counterparts who get a bit shticky (but not enough to undermine the film’s good
Anna-Sensei’s magnetism is undeniable and her
kids are all quite endearing. As a result, it is hard to imagine anyone would
not be won over by Hello’s charm.
Gentle but relatively true to life, it is perfect for family viewing. To that
end, the Japan Society is offering a special $6 admission deal for children
twelve or younger. Recommended with affection, Hello! Junichi screens tomorrow (7/20), the closing day of this
year’s Japan Cuts.
Labels: Family films, Japan Cuts '14, Japanese Cinema, Katsuhito Ishii