NYAFF 2010: GOLDEN SLUMBER Review

[Once again our thanks to Joshua Chaplinsky for the following review.]


Golden Slumber fills my eyes, but what exactly is it I'm seeing? A man-on-the-run conspiracy thriller, mixing JFK and The Bourne Identity? Or a treatise on friendship lost, the repairing of bonds, and finding one's way "back home"? The film is showing as part of the New York Asian Film Festival, so it should come as no surprised that the answer to the question is... both. Yoshihiro Nakamura's followup to festival favorite, Fish Story, has been garnering mostly positive notices, but I'm going to be a party pooper and go against the grain on this one.  

It sucks, because Golden Slumber has a fantastic hook. Mild-mannered Aoyagi reunites with an old school chum for what he thinks will be a fun-filled weekend of fishing and male bonding. Instead, he finds himself on the run from the law, wanted for the assassination of Japan's Prime Minister. (The scene where his friend explains what is going on is pretty great.) We are never quite sure who is behind the setup or why, but the whole thing reeks of government malfeasance.  

This mystery is what's so enticing about Golden Slumber, but the potential for a labyrinthine whodunnit is squandered in favor of sentimentality and silliness. That's not to say Golden Slumber isn't intricately constructed, but that construction has little to do with the mystery itself. It has more to do with the character's pasts, and how those pasts affect the outcome of the story. Abandoned vehicles as love motels and summer employ with the local fireworks manufacturer both play major roles, but give no insight into the real perpetrators behind the crime.  

These moments are what propels the plot. As we hit the midsection of the film, the action goes from taught to flabby and we are inundated with expository flashbacks. When initially presented, they feel superfluous and confusing, and only serve to slow the momentum. It is not until later that their importance becomes clear, but by then it almost doesn't matter. 

Then there are the happy-go-lucky serial killer and the hospitalized gangster who help Aoyagi along the way. One doles out advice while the other dispenses plastic manhole covers (you heard me.) These characters are too broad to be truly engaging, and although played for laughs, weren't all that funny. There was one stand-out scene where Kill-O, the unfortunately named serial killer, faces off against a badass shot-gunner with a predilection for hearing protection, but other than that, I didn't care for him.  

*****Minor Spoilers***** 

Another huge gripe is the use of one of the biggest movie cliches of all time- the ole' sentimental object stops a bullet to the heart. Every time I see it I just blanche; it is the kiss of death. The fact that Nakamura puts a modern twist on it by using an ipod does not help matters. I saw that shit on Mythbusters; an ipod will NOT stop a speeding bullet. 

Come to think of it, this is the second film I've reviewed for the festival that utilizes this cliche. That's two out of four films! Fifty percent !The first was Crazy Racer, but I must have completely blocked it out of my mind, like being touched by a creepy uncle. Golden Slumber brought it all rushing back to me like post-hypnotic suggestion. No wonder the positive nature of my Crazy Racer review didn't sit well. 

*****End Spoilers***** 

That was pretty much the lullaby for this pretty darling. Once, there was a way to go back home, but after "the ipod incident", who would want to? It doesn't matter that home is filled with the sweet refrain of McCartney's melody (sung with slightly slurred R's), has a great premise, and contains a handful of memorable scenes.  My disappointment is a bullet that will not be stopped, and it is coming straight for your heart, Golden Slumber. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to rewrite my Crazy Racer review.  

Golden Slumber screens Friday, July 2nd at Japan Society and Tuesday, July 6th at Walter Reade Theater. Click here for more info and tickets!

JOSHUA CHAPLINSKY  
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