JAPAN CUTS 2011: HARU'S JOURNEY Review

Dustin Chang, Contributing Writer

Tadao (screen legend Tatsuya Nakadai) is very upset. He's first seen storming out of the house by the sea in a small fishing village in Hokkaido, with his granddaughter Haru (Eri Tokunaga) trailing behind with his cane. She apologizes profusely but he is adamant. It is finally clear after they are on the train what their argument was about: Haru's job at the school cafeteria is no more since the school is permanently closed. She wants to go to Tokyo to get a job, and therefore Tadao will need to find some way to support himself alone. He is begrudgingly on his way to ask his siblings, whom he hasn't seen for ages, if they could take him in. So starts Haru's Journey, a moving, beautiful film by Masahiro Kobayashi (Bashing, Rebirth).

Haru's Journey
is a road movie. Our odd couple travel by train from place to place, relying on Tadao's worn address book, from one of Tadao's siblings after another. But there are no prospects of them accepting his proposal. They have their own problems and Tadao's insolence is not helping. It becomes clear that quiet Haru's been taking care of the old man all this time. Their money is running low and Tadao's lame leg does not help the matter.

The film can be seen as an updated version of Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story, but instead of older parents asking children for help in the industrialized post-war Japan that amplified the widening generation gap and breakdown of the tradition, Haru's Journey touches upon two of the most pressing issues in contemporary Japanese society- the growing number of the elderly population and the crippling recession. Since it being a Kobayashi film, there are no archetypes in Haru's Journey nor any moral grandstanding. Tadao is not an old saintly man contemplating about changing times but rather a stubborn, uneducated, selfish man who throws tantrums from time to time. Haru, whose mother ended her own life, is a deeply wounded girl, about to venture out into the world on her own. Every character in the film is three dimensional and has redeeming qualities. And there are no perfect answers to life's complications and not one person is wiser than the other.

As the tearful reunion between Haru and her father and his new wife gives Haru and Tadao a glimmer of hope in attaining a real family, but they realize that they can't just intrude on someone else's lives. For better or worse, they only got each other until the end.

Nakadai is nothing short of a revelation as a stubborn old man with no regrets. With his commanding presence and vulnerable gaze, the film showcases his great range. Eri Tokunaga is also remarkable as the withdrawn nineteen year old country girl whose resilience is the bedrock of the film. Kobayashi skillfully punches in for close ups of these two faces which convey so much feeling in critical moments. The strong support cast include Chikage Awashima as Tadao's kindly older sister and Teruyuki Kagawa as Haru's equally wounded, understanding father. Haru's Journey is a quietly affecting modern day masterpiece that will break your heart many times over.

Haru's Journey plays as part of Japan Cuts 2011 on July 20th at 7pm. For tickets and info, please visit JAPAN CUTS 2011 website.

Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musing and opinions on the world can be found at www.dustinchang.com
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