Rotterdam 2014 Review: TAMAKO IN MORATORIUM Pleasantly Idles Along
Director Yamashita Nobuhiro is probably best known for his 2007 film Linda Linda Linda, which managed to wring a lot of enjoyment out of a pretty mundane subject. In his newest film Tamako in Moratorium, he takes this a step further. Seemingly, in this film nothing much happens at all! The devil is in the details though...
After finishing school, Tamako returns home to her divorced father, who lives in a small apartment above the sports shop he runs. Once there, she starts to do some serious slacking: she doesn't work, she doesn't socialize... all she does is read manga, play games, watch television and eat the meals her father prepares for her each day.
But outside the house, seasons pass and life goes on. Tamako's father even starts dating again. Does none of this really affect Tamako, or is there at least SOME growing up going on within her?
When director Yamashita Nobuhiro was approached for Tamako in Moratorium, it was meant to be a two-episode miniseries for Japanese television. He was given freedom with regards to a script, as long as it would be a starring vehicle for former teen-pop star Maeda Atsuko, and stay within budget.
Indeed, two ten-minute episodes were finished and broadcast as scheduled, each detailing a season of Tamako's stay with her father. The feedback on these by cast, crew and audience was positive enough to film the other two seasons as well, and embellish on the format a bit. So instead of just shooting another two ten-minute segments, Tamako in Moratorium became a full theatrical feature film, of which the first twenty minutes happened to have already been broadcast.
Interestingly, even as a film Tamako in Moratorium fully embraces its episodic nature, each season having been scripted and shot only after all the previous ones had been finished. And though not much seems to be happening, you do get a good impression of time moving forward, of people getting slightly older. It's a subtle effect, but "subtle" is actually a great word to describe the whole film. You never discover what caused Tamako to become so withdrawn. No reason is shown for her behavior, nor is there a twist, a climactic recovery, or a sudden insight. The film shows four consecutive slices-of-life and pleasantly meanders, only providing hints about its characters but nothing more.
Seen in every single shot in the film, Maeda Atsuko acquits herself really well, playing completely against type. She is pretty, but absolutely not shown as glamorous here, and nothing points to her having been a leading idol of pop-group AKB48.
With all this focus on mundane reality, the real miracle here is how easy this film is to watch. By all means Tamako in Moratorium ought to an incredibly boring film, but instead watching it feels like lazying around on a warm summer's day.
All in all Tamako in Moratorium is just a pleasant film. Thrillseekers should definitely look elsewhere, though!
Audiences at the International Film Festival Rotterdam liked it a lot, awarding this sedate little film a 3.8 out of 5.