Sunday, November 3, 2013
Switching - Goodbye Me (Tenkosei, Sayonara Anata - 2007) Movie Thoughts
If one had told another more casual cinephile that the man responsible for the increasingly beloved cult favorite, HAUSU (1977) was responsible for this deceptively sedate take on one of 1980s cinema's creakiest premises, they may be considered a fibber at best. On the surface, there is little here to remind viewers of the commercial director who's visions of psychedelic nightmares & carnivorous pianos burned themselves into the minds of many an adventurous movie fan. Some might even see a work like this as some manner of legitimization of a once rabblerousing auteur, now turned mass market craftsman. But with this adaptation of a book by Hisashi Yamanaka, we are given an unexpectedly heartfelt, and yet no less strange tale of two souls forced to best understand one another (in the most literal way possible).
Daydream-addicted teen, Kazumi finds herself at a loss when her childhood boy pal, Kazuo returns to her small town with very limited memory of the days they spent together as kids of neighboring noodle shop owners. Determined to jog the retransplanted city boy, she takes him to the well which is the source of her family's tasty noodles, only to end in an accident which ends up magically switching their bodies. Now dazed, and unsure how to remedy this new problem, the two must work together as friends and family begin to question their bizarre shifts in behavior. And as if this isn't enough, multiple angles in how the two know each other are explored. But alas youth is brief, and neither are very good at playing each other.
Confounding matters, are things that are already going on in each other's lives since they had last seen one another. Kazuo's father is now out of the picture after a divorce, and may be in the middle of a long distance relationship with a fellow piano genius in the city. While Kazumi has been dating a straight-faced philosphy junkie for some time now. Life now, more than a little interrupted, matters can only be more overwhelming by the fact that they are no longer children. Whether it be troubles with love, or just pesky anatomy, so much is to be forced into the open by sheer cosmic luck. And this is perhaps Obayashi's most fascinating wrinkle to the whole tale. It's a film that is as interested in what happens when a girl once smitten, is now inhabiting the life of someone so important, and vice versa. The language of modern manga is turned fully on its head, as the convenience of neighborly love takes on an almost crash course aura. It seems to be asking, "what does it mean to truly love another?" And while the film may not be wholly successful in this area, it does have enough earnestness to get by.
Obayashi's gift for exploring often sexual themes with the goofy innocence akin to a child's imagination is about as sedate as it gets here. As so many japanese films of the mid-oughts, there is a want on the production's end for this is to become not unlike so many coming-of-age fantasies that are often one step removed from a Makoto Shinkai anime. But what Tenkosei offers up, is a unique series of not only funny, and dramatic questions about the current era's obsessions with nostalgic love, but even a pointed criticism of such thinking. Despite the fact that both central characters find themselves in a situation that they never asked for(they even do the unthinkable by pleading directly with disbelieving parents of their plight), all the protesting in the world won't change the fact that perceptions will never be the same. Even as the visuals of the film seem awash in fall colors, and perhaps even in line with all that is safe within so many recent TBS produced family films of the era, there is an aggressive playfulness that indicates that we are still in the hands of a visionary unwilling to grant us an ordinary piece of youth-driven pep. Even the film's flowing camera work and editing predates JJ Abrams' Star Trek by two years, and makes for a surprisingly kinetic experience for at least two thirds.
Much of the film's running time is made up of almost episodic stops and starts as the duo try desperately to adjust to their newfound, awkward reality. And it is in some of the smallest moments that it all shines so nicely. Having the leads played by both Misako Renbetsu & Naoyuki Morita perhaps makes all the difference in the world as both do admirable jobs as kids with almost perfect androgyny built into them. From vocal work, to body language, rarely does it ever feel forced, or done for sheer yuks. And when it is funny, more often than not, it tends to convince as the story carries more than a few surprises locked inside. And while there are a few missteps along the way (an encounter with a random groper in a park, and a perhaps unnecessarily sappy third act), there is more than enough here to warrant a look as one of Japan cinema's unsung heroes of quirk weaves his magic in ways that are unexpectedly sober and effective where it counts.