This year TheYoungFolks is proud to cover the JAPAN CUTS film festival, a celebration of the best of contemporary Japanese cinema. Additional information, screening schedules, and contact information for the festival can be found HERE. We begin today with our coverage of Shuichi Okita’s MOHICAN COMES HOME, the opening night feature kicking off the festival.
Shuichi Okita’s Mohican Comes Home is an odd pick for the opening night feature of the 2016 JAPAN CUTS film festival. The festival touts itself as promoting and celebrating the best in modern Japanese filmmaking. Yet the film itself seems anchored to Japan’s heritage of drowsy family dramas. Both the title and basic story outline are direct references to Keisuke Kinoshita’s Carmen Comes Home (1951). But this time, instead of a prodigal daughter returning from the Big City to her home village, it’s a prodigal son. Punk singer Eikichi (Ryuhei Matsuda) flees his piddling music career in Tokyo to his family’s island home in Hiroshima with his slightly ditzy, slightly pregnant girlfriend Yuka (Atsuko Maeda) in tow. Upon his arrival, fireworks flare up with his staunch, conservative father Osamu (Akira Emoto). But the old codger finally relents and welcomes him home with open arms and a gigantic party. All seems reconciled until Osamu becomes diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, throwing the family into chaos.
From there we follow the usual litany of dramas which accompany such stories. Old wounds between father and son are dredged up and resolved. The family comes to accept Yuka. There are multiple trips to a hospital, a couple of back-and-forths to the mainland, and an eventual wedding complete with shenanigans. Mohican Comes Home has several moments of comedy with a few of them bordering out-and-out farce. My favorite sequence involved the dying Osamu requesting a taste of the pizza he once enjoyed years and years ago. There are just three problems. One, he can’t remember what type of pizza it was, only that it had sausages. Two, he can’t remember which pizzeria had it. Three, the only three possible pizzerias nearby are miles away off the island. So what does Eikichi do? He guilt trips all three pizzerias into delivering each of their dishes with sausage to their house so Osamu can try them all. Let’s just say what follows involves three rival delivery men, three delivery bikes, dozens of boxes of pizza, and a very awkward ferry ride.
But for all its humor, Mohican Comes Home isn’t a comedy. It isn’t even a dramedy. The film paces itself to the natural rhythms of life. In life there are moments of despair, moments of tragedy, moments of joy, and even moments of absurd hilarity. Each comes in time, filling their own proper place in the order of things.
The film clocks in at 125 minutes. Believe me when I say you can feel each and every one of them. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t grow to care about each of the characters by the end credits. Okita uses his extensive run-time to allow little friendships to organically develop among the cast. It is these, not the occasional outbursts of comedy or emotion, which immortalize the film in my mind. Osamu constantly bickers with a shy trumpet player in the junior high band he conducts. Eikichi’s mother teaches Yuka how to cook after a disastrous first attempt at filleting a fish. Each of these feels intimately real. The problem is that I have met almost all of these characters before in other movies. Mohican Comes Home isn’t an innovation, it’s an affirmation of the movies which have been an essential part of Japan’s cinematic heritage for generations. At least it’s a good one.