Film: Sawako Decides
UK Release date: 10th October 2011
UK Distributor: Third Window Films
Director: Yuya Ishii
Starring: Hikari Mitsushima, Kotaro Shiga, Ryo Iwamatsu, Kira Aihara
Running time: 112 mins
Reviewer: Adam Wing
They say three is the magic number, but it’s the number five that has caused Sawako (Hikari Mitsushima) to take stock of her life. Sawako has lived in Tokyo for five years, is working in her fifth office job, and is dating her fifth boyfriend. The first four boyfriends dumped her unceremoniously and boyfriend number five is proving to be another unmitigated disaster. Her life with Kenichi (Masashi Endo), and his daughter from a previous marriage, Kayoko (Kira Aihara), feels like a compromise, but she endures the hardship because she’s convinced herself they deserve no better. As she so eloquently puts it to her insipid boyfriend, “I’m nothing special either, I have no choice, that’s why I’ll marry you”.
One day, she receives word that her father, Tadao (Kotaro Shiga), who runs a clam processing business in her hometown, has fallen ill. Sawako has good reason to stay away, but she returns somewhat reluctantly with Kenichi and Kayoko in tow. The workers are not best pleased by her sudden emergence, but over time, Sawako attempts to win the hearts of the small fishing community and rebuild her fathers failing business. Directed by Yuya Ishii, Sawako Decides is an offbeat comedy drama that embraces the absurdities of life. Taking top honours at the Fantasia International Film Festival for ‘Best Film’ and ‘Best Actress’, Sawako Decides is yours to own courtesy of Third Window Films.
Sawako Decides is a leisurely take on life, knee deep in quirky characterisations and comical interludes. At its heart is an unusual message, by convincing herself that she’s nothing special, Sawako not only copes with the inept characters that plague her existence, but also discovers the willpower to make something of her life. Her lack of self-belief has landed her a succession of ill-advised romances, and boyfriend number five is proving to be the biggest mistake of all. Not only does Kenichi seem content with his meandering existence, but he also knits his and hers sweaters in his spare time. The warning signs are there for all to see, but Sawako fools herself into believing that she deserves no better, and not even Kayoko’s apparent disregard for her ‘new mother’ is enough to affect a change.
Along the way she’ll learn a few valuable life lessons, find herself in increasingly bizarre situations, and maybe discover the self-belief she needs to start afresh. Hikari Mitsushima (Love Exposure, Death Note) is a breath of fresh air as Sawako, not only is she both charming and effortlessly engaging, she’s also blessed with impeccable comic timing. Sawako might well be lost within her own world, but Mitsushima’s performance is the guiding light that drives us through the gloom. Sawako Decides is a slow burning drama that occasionally drags its heels, but with Mitsushima at the wheel, director Ishii avoids leaving a potentially restless audience disengaged.
The supporting players are memorable too. Masashi Endo’s charmless boyfriend shtick succeeds in making you want to slap him, and Aihara’s youthful turn provides the film with not only its most developed character, but coupled with a promising mother and daughter dynamic, its most affecting relationship as well. It’s safe to say that even at such a tender age, Kayoko portrays the only true grown up the film has to offer. Smaller roles are no less impressive, Sawako’s blossoming friendship with an older employee, and the factory manager who insists on starting each day with a song - despite rapidly declining sales and the distinct possibility of impending doom - are on hand to divert from the absence of course and structure. Sawako Decides takes a long time to reach its goal, and the eventual outcome is no less ‘middling’ than the characters we’re encouraged to follow, but with fruitful performances and subtle comedic turns, Sawako Decides engages from start to finish.
Flawed and fruitful, dispirited yet unequivocally uplifting, Sawako Decides is overlong and inconsequential but blessed with enough quirky charm to see you through. Hikari Mitsushima leads an impressive cast in an enjoyable comedy drama that encourages you to embrace the mediocrity of life and then overcome it.