Monday, October 17, 2011
This intriguing remake of the Oscar winning film which is based upon a novel is more of interest on an intellectual level than it is on any other one.
The plot of the film has Michio Saito going from Tokyo to California for the wedding of a friend. He teaches screenplay writing despite never having had a script produced (though his students are very successful). He is waiting on word whether something he wrote will at last be produced. His friend is a successful restaurant owner who was the star of the Captain Ninja TV show several years earlier. Saito thinks they are going to see the vineyard of Napa, while his friend wants to go to Las Vegas for one last fling. Through circumstance they end up in the vineyards and eventually run into two women at a restaurant, one of which is an old friend.
This is not a wholly successful movie the film’s mixing of old and new and Japanese and American sensibilities never completely mesh. At the same time when the film works it is really something wonderful.
At this point I should probably state that I am not a fan of the 2004 film. I do like the film but at the same time I can’t understand all of the love and adulation the film received, especially when I found the two leads jerks, even if Giamatti does get better as the film goes on.
The place where the film scores best is between Saito and his long lost love. There is something about the ease of the relationship and the sense of emotion percolating down below the surface that is a nice counterpoint to the wear your heart on the sleeve crashing of Giamatti and Virginia Madsen in the original. Where the Americans can be seen to carry the wounds on the inside and the outside, in this film the brave face of the Japanese some how makes you sense a deeper hurt and sense of loss that they won’t even admit to themselves.
Some of the other differences between the two films hurt more than help the film. Daisuke Uehara, the Thomas Hayden Church character is even more of a jerk than before and a weird sequence with a dominatrix that seems shipped in from a teen comedy.
I should also note that the mixing of English and Japanese through out the film mostly works, with my only complaint being that several of the characters who are supposed to have been in the US for decades still have very thick accents.
Ultimately I liked the film enough that I’m disappointed that it wasn’t better.
Still if you can run a copy down for yourself, do so, you will like it (though you may not love it).