Sunday, February 6, 2011

Boku to Tsuma no 1778 Monogatari - 1,778 Stories of Me and My Wife - 2011

Director - Mamoru Hoshi

Rating - 2/5

Mixing surreal elements with the tearjerker formula, this ends up less than the sum of its parts.

Weepy movies based on true stories have the prerequisite of being sad, and this is in bucketloads. What marks this out from other films that demand a box of kleenex on hand, are the main character's short stories and their surreal visualization. However, confines of the genre ensure, though there are some nice ideas, the melodrama is cranked up to 11.

Sakutaro or "Saku" is a head in the clouds creative type, who is obsessed with robots that look straight out of 1950’s TV serializations. He writes odd fiction for a sci-fi periodical, and lives with his high-school sweetheart and wife Seiko, who acts more like his mother than his partner. When they receive the tragic news that Seiko has contracted terminal cancer Saku embarks on a mission to write a short story for her every day . He hopes that giving her something to smile about will help her fight back against the cancer. The film follows the two, and his writing, as her condition gradually worsens.

Japanese popster and TV celebrity Tsuyoshi Kusanagi as Saku is hard to warm to. Attempting to work the charming eccentric angle he comes off, largely, as irritating. There is this childlike quality to him that is unnerving. Seiko, Yuko Takeuchi (The Ring) is generally just the foil to her wacky husband. She does handle Seiko's decline in health convincingly, but the couple's dynamic is hit and miss. There is an excess of soap opera acting going on; in close-up someone will smile to themselves, give an exaggerated look of determination, or have a eureka moment and grin up at the sky. Someone involved was reading too much "acting for dummies". The two both have quality when allowed to perform, this much is clear. An argument between the two suddenly snaps a painful sense of realness to the screen, yet these brief moments are decidedly in the minority. Ren Osugi puts in a shift as the hospital doctor who deals with the couple and is, as always, very good.

The short stories link in meaningfully with the real-world, working sometimes as allegories for the plot. They have a nice quirkiness about them, if a little on the insubstantial side. Saku lying on his back in a park stares upwards as the clouds begin to transform into spaceships and the local buildings turn into lumbering robots. One about a group of old androids being run out of their artic world by the flashy new models stands out. These moments are interestingly done and work nicely, and the shots of sci-fi memorabilia cluttered around Saku's house establish a tangible link between this fantasy world and reality. Ironically though, it is the cold close-ups of the black blots on Seiko's cancer scanse that are the most arresting and alien images.

1778 really starts hammering on the tear ducts in the last 45 minutes. Needless to say there were not many dry eyes in the screening I attended. In fact from about the 90 minute mark there was a perpetual background sob, and only those as cold as ice will remain totally resolute to the credits. Yet, this is one of the fundamental issues with the film, it is so relentlessly sad that it becomes exhausting to watch. Not helping is the fact that it's on the flabby side as well. The third act particularly, goes on for an age. There are a few unexpected turns but, unavoidably there is an inevitability with that number 1778 looming over the film. A bit more conciseness and subtlety would have been a massive improvement.

The basic premise reminded me a bit of Michel Gondry’s The Science of Sleep, which in turn made me wonder what kind of film this could have been. Whilst it is impossible to remain unmoved by the melodrama, there is a clinical nature to its tear jerking that feels emotionally manipulative. It is quite sad really when you think that films have the ability to make an inherently decent, and true story come across as sentimentalized and gushy. The originality of the parallel world in Saku’s stories is not enough to save this from mediocrity.

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