From reading a brief synopsis online of A Story of Yonosuke,
and with its 2 1/2 hour plus runtime, and the fact it is a period piece (taking place in 1987), I was fully expecting a Being There
or Forest Gump
type parable steeped in a socio-political survey on Japan's economic boom and its downturn in recent years. In a way the film is a parable, but in the subtlest terms.
It's a winsome tale about an affable young man named Yonosuke (a funny sounding name, I was told), who is not mentally handicapped nor an ethereal butler who may or may not exist. Rather, he is a regular guy who still manages to touch many lives with his gentle, optimistic nature.
Even though the film's periodic details are astutely recreated and observed, it is not the nostalgia piece where someone would say, "Yes, I remember the Yomiuri Giants winning the world series that year". As you delve into Yonosuke's life, it makes you forget the film's artificial backdrop soon enough.
Yonosuke, a college freshman from Nagasaki, is played by Kora Kengo (Norwegian Wood
, Woodsman and the Rain
). His sharp features and intensity are diffused by his big fuzzy hair and goofy smile. He is an ordinary, good natured kid whom everyone wishes would be their best friend. Yonosuke first befriends Kuramochi (Ikematsu Sosuke) and Yui (Asakura Aki) (they later become a couple), when they stumble into the school's samba club in an orientation week. They become an inseparable trio. After getting infatuated with an older, alluring 'party girl' Chiharu (Ito Ayumi), Yonosuke unloads his feelings about her on the reluctant ears of Kato (Ayano Gou), a reserved man Yonosuke mistakes for someone he knows. They also become best friends. Then he meets Shoko (Yoshitaka Yuriko), a rich industrialist's daughter, who is always chaperoned by a driver and waited by a maid. Their class differences provide many comedic moments in the film. A wide-eyed naif, Shoko falls for good natured Yonosuke right away. She even follows him to Nagasaki for the summer break at a moment's notice, bewildering him and his rightfully suspicious parents. Their courtship is perhaps the most beguiling part of the film: awkward, funny, tender and uplifting- as should any first love be remembered by.
"When I die, would anyone cry?" wonders Yonosuke at his grandma's funeral. It's a question all of us ask ourselves at some point in our lives. "No, everyone will laugh when they think of you." Shoko tells him. And this they do. Throughout the film, director Okita Shuichi unhurriedly inserts people from Yonosuke's life reminiscing about their time with him after some 16 years, without sacrificing the film's gentle narrative flow and without corny sentimentality. Their chance encounters with Yonosuke enriched their lives immeasurably and they feel privileged to have known him.
I take the film as a reminder that beauty and kindness is in all of us, in this time of economic hardship/post-Fukushima Japan. It's a warm hearted, hopeful film subtly realized by Okita and its spirit is beautifully embodied by Kora. A Story of Yonosuke
will go down as one of the best films I've seen this year.A Story of Yonosuke screens on July 13, as part of Japan Cuts 2013. For tickets and more info, please visit Japan Society's website.
Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions can be found at www.dustinchang.com
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