As a perfectly musical director, Shuichi Okita shows us a delicious ‘ordinary anthem’ with a story full of love and beauty…
If Japanese director Shuichi Okita were like one of his characters, he would surely be a person to meet with. First a perfectionist cook in an Antarctic base, then an emotionless lumberjack and a shy director, now a simple boy like anyone else or would be better to say “ordinary”, the same word used to describe the bizarre Yonosuke Yokomichi (Kengo Kora, The Woodsman and the Rain, The Drudgery Train), original title of the movie we know as A Story of Yonosuke. Based on Shuichi Yoshida’s novel published in 2009 in Japan and adapted in collaboration with Shiro Maeda (Isn’t Anyone Alive?), has been known until now as one of the best Japanese movies of 2012.
We’re used, watching both western and eastern productions, to see how the model for a movie driven by a singular character is usually similar to the famous Forrest Gump, a weird guy that walks through story and time leaving a sign behind himself thanks to his peculiarities. Yonosuke Yokomichi’s case is as rare as his own name, a name that leaves everyone with a clear doubt (is it true or not?): he has no particular ability, he doesn’t excel in sports, he hasn’t got a strong will and he’s not one of those guys proud of his own madness. The one simple thing that makes him extraordinary is his good nature, his warm heart.
A Story of Yonosuke has its UK premiere at the Terracotta Film Festival in a particular moment, the one in which the Dove marketing campaign is still breathing, trying to teach everyone – against scientists opinion – through a FBI forensic artist that we look more beautiful that we think. The artist, hidden behind a veil, had to draw a portrait of a person following the indications given by the subject first and then by someone who just met the other one. The result said that we’re seen as a more beautiful person then what we are used to think of ourselves. And this kinda seems to be at centre of Shuichi Okita’s movie: how do we see ourselves, what’s the impact we make on other people lives?
In almost three hours of movie, the most important scenes were those in which some of the characters were seen twenty years after the main timeline (the Eighties), following a few people that met Yonosuke in their college life. Each one of them had never thought of how much important that “ordinary” guy had been in their life. Suddenly everything becomes clear and that memory survives in the equilibrium those people have found, or in their sincere laughs like Kato’s (Gou Ayano, Gantz, Helter Skelter) one, who came out firstly in front of Yonosuke, or Ippei’s (Sosuke Ikematsu, Yamato, Our Family) smile, who found his love thanks to him. Or even better, the short description his once fiancé Shoko (Yuriko Yoshitaka, Adrift in Tokyo, Himizu) said to her niece.
An interesting acting choice by Kengo Kora, best known for his role as a young gangster in the godardian The Egoists, or as Katsuhiko’s son in the wonderful The Woodsman and the Rain. Sweet looking, delicate and always with the right expressions printed on his face, Kora leads the viewer in each one of his “ordinary” adventures. It never gets tiring or boring, he creates the perfect empathy almost as we were some of his curious friends. Knowing this person, his existence whom physical and intellectual evolution is completely avoided and only represented by a bunch of pictures, helps the audience to feel luckier.
Between one scene and another we discover the beauty of normality, how interesting is not being a show-off, source of most laughs like Okita’s demonstrates with the pessimist and intellectual Kiyoshi (Daisuke Kuroda, Antarctic Chef, Outrage), or the ambitious Ozawa (Tasuku Emoto, Air Doll, I’m Flash), or with the “party girl” Chiharu (Ayumi Ito, Penance, Solanin). Shuichi Okita hands out his message, his kind moral dedicated to those who should appreciate things, not just the small ones or the big ones but each one of them, living their life by being simply themselves. Without anyone to force us or telling us what to do, just follow our very own heart.
A Story of Yonosuke screens as part of the Japan Foundation Touring Programme 2014 at the ICA London, and will be released on UK DVD and Blu-ray on 14 April 2014 by Third Window.
Review originally published 7 June 2013.