One Million Yen and the Nigamushi Woman (Hyakuman-en to nigamushi onna) [2008] • Japan

This film will appeal to fans of Yû Aoi even though there isn't much range to her performance. What we get is exclusively the shy, sad, and awkward Yû Aoi with none of the radiant, confident, and smiling. She's on screen almost the entire two hour running time so the appeal may come from sheer quantity more than anything else, but she performs well and demonstrates she is capable of carrying a film on her own even if the value of that labor remains a question mark.

Yû Aoi's character has brought shame upon herself and her family by having a criminal record so she decides to run away, drift from town to town, staying in one place only long enough to earn one million yen and then move on. She wants to be anonymous, always one step ahead of any accusatory gaze that may be following her tortured soul. But what happens if she finds love? Will she reveal her ... true nature, that she's a criminal? No, that's not it. Her ... horrifying secret? No, that's not it either. The whole thing is kind of silly but I will grant the film some kudos for its final resolve even if it has little to do with illuminating its central conceit.

I'm no expert on Japanese culture but the basic premise of the film seems weak to me. Yû Aoi and a girlfriend agree to rent an apartment together so they can share costs and save money. They sign a lease and then Yû Aoi discovers that her girlfriend's boyfriend will be moving in as well. On move-in day only the boyfriend shows up and he informs Yû Aoi that his (and her!) girlfriend dumped him and will not be moving in. Fuck that. The guy turns out to be a total jerk, of course. Amongst many other idiotic attitudes, behaviors, and talking points, when Yû Aoi adopts a kitten and the guy doesn't like it, he throws it away, whatever that means, and we're gifted with a shot of a dead kitty on the road. In retaliation, Yû Aoi throws away every single piece of her roommate's property. The guy files charges and wins a criminal case against her, which she could have avoided by saying she had sex with the guy, even once, whether true or not, thereby making it a domestic issue and the police would've washed their hands of it. I'd proudly share that story at cocktail parties, but for Yû Aoi it's a scarlet letter.

The film's script has a number of weaknesses. One of them is Yû Aoi's little brother. He gets a subplot of being bullied by his peers. At first, he and Yû Aoi are at odds with one another. Then she leaves and massive love shows up. The little brother is only there to play on the heartstrings of unconditional blood love thriving in the face of a cruel world as it kicks brother and sister about. He's no good and his story is banal. Yû Aoi, and the film, would have been better served if she were cast out on her own, alone.

Yû Aoi's first stop in her search for anonymity finds her at a beach resort where everyone's hair is lighter than hers and their skin is darker. Oops. Her next stop is a rural mountain village where there are no young people left—let alone anyone as beautiful as Yû Aoi. Things get a little creepy and it's ironic that in this second stop the director achieves a nice symbiotic relationship between form and content but it only serves to bring the film to an unendurable lull. These rural village people are slow—in every way—and obstinate, and the film's pace follows suit.

Yû Aoi's final stop finds her in a semi-urban setting where she takes a job in a lawn and garden shop. This is where the "What if she finds love" card gets played, and we can only presume that deep down this is what Yû Aoi had been looking for all along because, even though she struggles against it at first, it's pretty hard to fathom any sane interest on her part in what she ends up with so she must be settling. The film does finish with a nice little kick, if not swift, and it's interesting that the reveal validates what you're hoping was the case, as unlikely as it may seem, but it promotes a dishonest sympathy through failure rather than disgust by virtue of assholeness. Had it gone any other way, though, the whole thing would have been a disaster.

All in all, a reasonably pleasant two hours spent with Yû Aoi as she weaves her way through a mostly mediocre film. There's nothing about the story which excites and other than Yû Aoi there are no characters worth paying attention to. The production values are good, though not remarkable in any way. If you are a fan of the actress, who does quite well in creating likable characters in the many smaller roles she takes on, One Million Yen and the Nigamushi Woman is worth seeing just to see her perform in a film that belongs entirely to her. But if you are a cinephile you'll probably walk away non-plussed.


Director: Yuki Tanada
Starring:Yu Aoi, Mirai Moriyama, Terunosuke Takezai