Dir.: Kei Ishikawa; Cast: Satochi Tsumabuki, Sakura Ando, Masataka Kubota; Japan 2022, 122′.
Japanese director/editor Kei Ishikawa offers up a languid but over-ambitious feature inspired by the 2018 novel by Keiichiro Hirano. Adapted for the screen by Kosuke Mukai, A Man seems like a straightforward thriller, but it plays out as a metaphysical look at memory, identity linked to the recent wave of xenophobia active in Japan.
Rie (Ando) lives alone with her son Yuto, running a stationary shop. No longer together with her husband, after the death of Yuto’s younger brother, she faces at uncertain future emotionally. Then love comes along in the shape of Daisuke Taniguchi (Kubota), a rather shy amateur painter who earns a living as a lumberjack. After the birth of their daughter Hana, Daisuke is killed by a falling tree. Rie is stunned and traumatised, so is Yuto, having bonded with his stepfather.
On the first anniversary of Daisuke’s death, his brother turns up with the alarming news that the man in the cherished family photo of their ‘lost loved one’ is not his brother. Rie asks lawyer Akira Vido (Tsumabuki) for help, and what comes to light is a change of name and identity – not once but twice. Daisuke was purportedly a professional boxer, who committed suicide after his father was executed for a triple murder. Vido then becomes the focus of the narrative: his marriage to the daughter of a wealthy but xenophobic man, is on the verge of collapse – not surprisingly, since he himself is the son of Korean emigrants. Vido becomes increasingly immersed in the Daisuke mystery which throws up more questions that it answers, but the director, sticking closely to the pages, does not reveal Daisuke’s real identity.
Even the very generous running time of two hours does not allow Ishikawa to get the sprawling plot under control. There are simply too many stories to be told, and Akira’s alienation from his wife and her family – however intriguing – slows down the thrust of the main narrative, leaving the audience underwhelmed by a story that should be gripping. All this is not helped by Ryuto Kondo’s remote camerawork that seems to treat the protagonists like fish gliding slowing around in the aquarium that actually features in the final act.
Ishikawa has bitten off more than he can handle: the confusing introduction of new protagonists and narrative strands certainly keeps the audience guessing, but nothing is really resolved. A Man is flooded with great ideas and there are some magical moments but less is always more, particularly where this otherwise impressive film is concerned. AS
VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 2022