Archive for May 20th, 2012

Peppermint Candy (2000)

Set in the year 1999, a man in a agitated state named Yong-ho kills himself in front of his old classmates at a reunion party in a place where they went on a trip 20 years previously by standing in front of a train on a bridge and shouting “I want to go back”. The movie goes back in time to various stages in his life from the immediate past to the earlier stages of his young adult life. Just before his death, Yong-ho’s life was a mess and was living in a run-down shack. He’d been ripped off by his business partner, lost money on the stock market and his wife had divorced him. With his last bit of cash, he buys a gun and expresses the wish to die and to take those people along with him who have made his life a torment. A man comes looking for him asking to visit his wife who is dying in hospital. It turns out she was his first love many years ago and used to send peppermint candies to Yong-ho when he was in the army. As we go back further in time, Yong-ho is seen as a successful businessman whose wife is cheating on him and before that as a brutal police officer who isn’t very nice to his heavily pregnant wife. As a young adult, Yong-ho is a useless soldier who accidentally kills a schoolgirl and then the story comes full circle to the trip and the location where the movie opens and he meets his true love for the first time.

A very interesting movie that tracks the life path of how a man who goes from youthful innocence, beauty and love to being a nasty, cruel and hateful man, and most especially self-hate, and this is all depicted in 7 flashback sequences. The movie unfolds in reverse chronology over a 20 year period as we witness the crucial events in the man’s life that have led him to his present state. Each of the seven flashback periods is separated by an image of a train running backwards. A very nice touch by the director. The movie progressively drags you into its increasingly tragic storyline but never torturing you enough that you’ll stop looking but not pulling any punches either. It’s not a movie that makes for fun watching. At the end there are no loose ends or contradictions and it seemed that all the jigsaw pieces that we’ve seen over the course of the movie fits perfectly. This movie from what I’ve been reading also mirrors a very tumultuous period in the history of South Korea. However, even if you do not have a passing knowledge of South Korean politics because I certainly didn’t this is still a compelling film with its stirring portrayal of a man’s disintegration. The movie is slow-paced but it never gets boring. Sol Kyung-gu is excellent as Yong-ho who easily captures the wide range of emotions in his dynamic character from a tortured soul to an ambitious youth with dreams like any other.

Overall, this is a poignant tale of innocence lost which is worth watching. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Usagi Drop (2011)

27-year-old Daikichi is an unmarried office worker with no girlfriend. When his grandfather dies he attends his funeral and sees a strange little girl there. He finds out that the quiet and sad little girl is his grandfather’s illegitimate daughter and the mother is unknown. The little girl is called Rin and she’s 6 years old. The family debate about who will take over responsibilities to look after her. With nobody willing to do it, Daikichi takes it upon himself to be her guardian. His family are surprised as they believe he has no idea on how it is to become a parent. Even his mother warns him that she made many sacrifices for her 2 children. He soon learns the difficulties in raising a child as a single parent with the usual childhood problems: wetting the bed, not making friends, then making friends, becoming sick, experiencing feelings of abandonment and posing tricky questions about death. As time passes by, little Rin begins feeling more and more comfortable being around him, but still must face the loss of her father.

Based on the manga of the same name, this is a lovely heartwarming tale about a young man taking up the responsibilities of parenthood and finding out that it’s not as easy as it looks but even through the hardship he encounters in raising young Rin he wouldn’t have it any other way. We witness the likeable Daikichi change from being a work intensive person and even changing job so that he can focus his attention solely on raising Rin. It shows the human condition and our ability to nurture in the absolute best and worst of scenarios. It also shows the emotional and physical toll in raising a child especially in a work-heavy society such as Japan. With this kind of movie you might expect sentimentality or maybe some saccharine sweet moments but director Hiroyuki Tanaka keeps them to a minimum. Even when there’s a little bit of drama near the climax as Rin and her nursery school friend Koki run away to visit Koki’s fathers grave in a cemetery and come across a creepy looking young man, it is handled competently and any thoughts that the situation is going to become dark is soon forgotten. There’s hardly any conflict in the movie and the romance that seems to be building between Daikichi and a female single parent seems to be snuffed out before the end credits. There’s not a lot of character development either but that didn’t really bother me. Ultimately this movie is about the cute and warm relationship that grows between Daikichi and Rin

I quite like Kenichi Matsuyama as an actor. He has established himself as one of Japan’s brightest actors and he doesn’t fail to impress as Daikichi. He has the knack of being able to tackle a variety of diverse roles. The main star of the movie has to be Mana Ashida who is simply too adorable for words. She’s THE most popular child actress in Japan right now which has seen her star power rocket over the past year. Already a veteran of several movies and dramas, she is fantastic as Rin. Even though she may be a child, Mana’s acting especially in her dramatic scenes is superb. She compliments Kenichi Matsuyama’s acting very well and they make a very believable parent and child. With everybody wanting to have a piece of Mana Ashida at the moment, I just hope she won’t burn out soon.

Usagi Drop is a sweet feel-good movie that will leave you smiling afterwards. It was an absolute delight to watch.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5.

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