Koiwa’s life revolves around anime. Her brother Norio is all about pachinko.
Neither is particularly industrious, but fortunately their long lost mother Saiko
was helping pay the bills, unbeknownst to her daughter. Sadly, Saiko will not
have enough time to rebuild their relationship, but Mugiko will learn to appreciate
her mother after the fact in Keisuke Yoshida’s My Little Sweet Pea (trailer here), which screens as
part of this year’s Japan Cuts: the New York Festival of Contemporary Japanese Film.
hardship, Saiko moves in with Mugiko and the surly Norio, who shacks-up with
his girlfriend shortly thereafter. It is a decidedly awkward situation for Koiwa,
who always thought Saiko had abandoned her family. While she makes some halting
efforts, she never really accepts Saiko into her life before the older woman’s
death. Unsure of her own feelings, Koiwa agrees to takes her mother’s ashes to
her provincial home town for her forty-nine day ritual.
Koiwa is rather shocked when the community receives her like a rock star.
Evidently, she is the spitting image of her mother in her younger years. Saiko
only visited once after moving to Tokyo to fruitlessly pursue her pop star dreams,
but she is fondly remembered by all, particularly her cabbie Manabu Inomoto, a
luckless suitor, and Saiko’s best friend, Michiru. It turns out Koiwa has a lot
to learn about her mother and she will have the time to learn, thanks to some
missing internment paperwork.
you prefer your films on the cynical side than Sweet Pea might just make you break out in hives. However, anime
fans should sit up and take note, Production I.G (the studio behind Ghost in the Shell) created original
animated sequences seen during Koiwa’s early fangirl sequences. They are pretty
cool, but they are a distinct anomaly in their filmography.
real point of Sweet Pea is Koiwa’s journey
rediscovering her lost mother. As her host and guide, Michiru, Yumi Asou is
wonderfully warm and humane, unexpectedly outshining just about everyone. On
the other hand, Yoichi Nukumizu indulges in a bit of shtick as Inomoto.
Nevertheless, he nicely turns his big serious third act speech. Maki Horikita portrays
Koiwa’s internal arc of development with believable restraint, but Ryuhei
Matsuda makes little impression as brother Norio, while Kimiko Yo’s Saiko never
really lands the emotional haymaker.
The Oscar winning Departures (which co-starred Yo) is an obvious comparison film,
with the misunderstood Saiko taking the place of the encoffineer’s absentee
father. While Sweet Pea is not nearly
as devastating, it feels more true to life. It is a wistful, endearing film
that works on its own terms. Recommended for fans of tearjerkers with anime
seasoning, My Little Sweat Pea screens
tomorrow (7/19) at the Japan Society as part of the 2014 Japan Cuts.
Labels: Japan Cuts '14, Japanese Cinema, Production I.G