The story that will unfold is obvious from the beginning. A harried young city dweller, Taeko, takes a much needed vacation to a remote island inn, meets a few laid back and strange locals which she at first tries to keep her distance from but eventually succumbs to the rhythm of the place and its people. Happiness is attained.
For a film like this to work it needs to look nice, have engaging characters, and not take itself too seriously. It's filmed on Yoron Island, Okinawa, Japan, so director Naoko Ogigami has the aesthetics of location covered. There are plenty of shots of crystal clear waters washing up on pristine beaches that look nice and help set the slow rolling pace of the film. Ogigami has written a witty and sparse script, which drifts along alternating between surreal and a Zen koan, and assembled a wonderful and talented cast to deliver it. Ken Mitsuishi, who's been in 136 films, plays the inn-keeper Yuji with such calm assurance you might think you're watching his biography. Ogigami also brings along two actresses who made an impression in her previous film, Kamome Shokudo (Seagull Diner). Masako Motai plays a mysterious visiting matriarch of the island, Sakura, who makes magical kaki-gori, a dessert made of shaved ice and syrup, and leads the locals in weird morning calisthenic exercises on the beach. Satomi Kobayashi plays Taeko, the vacationing visitor to the island. She seems well suited to Ogigami's style, having played a similar fish-out-of-water character in Kamome Shokudo, a Japanese woman who opens a restaurant serving rice balls in Helsinki. Her performance here shows a slow and subtle transformation that reflects the pace of life on the island. The cast is rounded out with celebrated young actors Mikako Ichikawa and Ryo Kase.
If you enjoy slow, amusing, meditative films with quirky characters this is a winner. If you're looking for slapstick, this is a loser. It's whimsical and slightly bizarre but thoroughly understated. Moments that might seem a little new age tree-huggerish aren't annoying because the tone is not preachy or precious. It's very light-hearted and doesn't take itself seriously.
Director: Naoko Ogigami
Starring: Satomi Kobayashi, Mikako Ichikawa, Ryo Kase, Ken Mitsuishi, Masako Motai
Time Out (an opposing view)