Odakyu Electric Railway’s “Romancecar” is not exactly a Love Boat on rails, but
it is known for its attentive service. Nobody upholds its standards better than
Hachiko Hojo. After her chaotic childhood, she appreciates its rigid schedules
and routines. As a result, she is more surprised than anyone when a flaky older
passenger convinces her to take a sudden day trip in director-screenwriter Yuki
Tanada’s Round Trip Heart (trailer here), which screens
during Japan Cuts 2015, the Festival of New Japanese Film in New York.
is a paragon of customer service, whereas Michiyo Kubo frequently crushes bento
boxes with her cart. Unfortunately, Kubo will have to take one run solo thanks to
Yoichi Sakuraba. Hojo caught the producer of knock-off b-movies shoplifting
snacks, but when she chased him through the Hakone station, the Romancecar
pulled out without her. It is an inauspicious start to a relationship, but he
makes it worse when he reads the private letter Hojo tried to discard.
her anger, the fast-talking Sakuraba half-convinces Hojo the note from her long-estranged
mother just might be a veiled suicide threat. It seems she too has traveled to
Hakone, the scene of their one happy family vacation, with the intention of
ending it all—or so Sakuraba argues. So maybe he quarter-convinces Hojo her
mother has sent her a cry for help. Although she remains skeptical, she sets
out with the middle-aged under-achiever, to revisit the sites of the fondly
remembered family vacation, in hopes of preventing her mother from doing
flashbacks, we see how episodes from Hojo’s childhood trip to Hakone echo in
the present day. Shrewdly though, Tanada does not force them into rigid
parallels. She slowly opens up Hojo’s psyche, letting us discover over time
just why she is so emotionally repressed. It is a simple story of ships
passing, but the execution is remarkably sensitive and assured.
actress Yuko Oshima was formerly a member of the teen idol pop group AKB48
before aging out, a la Menudo, which is not exactly a confidence-inspiring
resume, but she is shockingly good as Hojo, giving the film its heart and soul.
It is a quiet performance, but she expresses volumes with a look or a sigh.
Heart also represents a
breakout for rubber-faced supporting player Koji Ookura, tapped as her co-lead.
At first, he looks like he just bring more shtick, but he conveys all the
insecurity and angst beneath Sakuraba’s bluster.
There is just an awful lot of emotional honesty
to Oshima and Ookura’s work. Tanada almost takes things too far in the third
act, but manages to pull the plane out of its tailspin at the last minute. Overall,
the film has a vibe of peaceful sadness that is rather exquisite. You might
think you have seen many films like it before—and probably have—yet, it lowers
the boom on viewers just the same. Highly recommended for Oshima’ star-making
turn, Round Trip Heart screens this
Friday (7/10) at the Japan Society, as part of this year’s Japan Cuts.
Labels: Japan Cuts '15, Japanese Cinema, Yuko Oshima