Fantasia 2010: GOLDEN SLUMBER Review

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Fantasia 2010: GOLDEN SLUMBER Review
[Our thanks to Lauren Baggett for the following.]

Well into the final reel of Golden Slumber, the climax was interrupted by an automated voice (bilingual: this is Quebec, after all) warning us that a fire alarm had been pulled, and that an alarm sounding an evacuation would most likely follow. The sold out audience's quiet confusion gave way to groans of disappointment as the alarm did indeed go off. We were corralled out into the street for a good twenty minutes, in the rain, until it was ascertained that the building was not on fire. Then (and kudos to Fantasia staff for their handling of the situation), the audience quietly filed back in, most taking the same seats they had before, and applauded as the film picked up where we left off. It was to the film's credit that the past twenty minutes of standing out in the rain were soon forgotten. This is the power of Golden Slumber: a premise that sounds like the latest A-list Hollywood thriller is instead used to create something quieter, smarter, and utterly captivating.

Aoyagi, a bit of an affable loser, is thrilled to reconnect with an old college friend for a fishing trip and reminiscing about the good old days over burgers. His excitement turns to confusion and then horror, however, as the friend confesses that there is no fishing trip. The Japanese Prime Minister, visiting in a parade deliberately akin to JFK in Dallas, is about to be assassinated. And this friend, driven by financial desperation, has agreed to deliver Aoyagi to the wolves. The shadowy powers behind this act are both dangerous and thorough. The once-mundane details of Aoyagi's life have been mined and manipulated for the media to spin. "It's all image," Morita the reluctant Judas warns Aoyagi, and in a world filled with short attention spans and expanded police powers, few people will question the presentation of Aoyagi as a villain. The possibility of clearing his name is never really eliminated, but also seems impossible in a society where the powers that be are so invested in a scapegoat. Aoyagi's best bet is to run, and to keep running until a better solution can be found... if there is one.

Aoyagi, played with a constant expression of quiet shock by Masato Sakai, initially comes off as far too naïve and trusting for someone in his situation. But trust, as Aoyagi explains, is more than a weakness of personality. In a life or death situation where he, time and time again, is forced to rely on the kindness of strangers, trust is all that he has.
Eventually, this trust begins to pay off, as both friends and strangers begin to band together to keep Aoyagi out of the hands of the authorities.

Golden Slumber is not the straightforward action-filled ride one may be expecting from the premise. Instead, it delivers an intriguing fusion of the conspiracy thriller and the calm, sunny flavor of nostalgia film that Japan is particularly talented at churning out. This melding of genres comes off fantastically, working so harmoniously for the most part that you couldn't imagine the story being told any other way. There are no last act reveals or ultimate answers here. Aoyagi and the audience alike never learn who is pulling the strings behind the scenes (though it's hinted that the Prime Minister's replacement stands to profit the most from the assassination). The lack of serious cloak and dagger business is hard to miss when the alternative presented is so satisfying.  Golden Slumber is, more than anything, a film about nostalgia, about the way that we recreate and idealize our pasts. In a way, Aoyagi has never left the days of his college fast food club, and it turns out that his friends, while living supposedly more mature lives, are feeling just as adrift in their memories.  Just as riveting as the conspiracy plotline is how director Yoshihiro Nakamura portrays the growing camaraderie between Aoyagi's helpers . A shot showing two women watching the news on television during a quiet moment becomes as riveting as the last chase scene. Standouts in the crowd of characters include the quiet heroism of Haruko, Aoyagi's college sweetheart, and the impish benefactor Kill-O, a hyperactive teenage serial killer.

The epilogue could stand some trimming, and the climax seemed to lose intensity as it went on (though this may well have been a result of the aforementioned fire alarm). Being a tad too long doesn't hurt the film much in the long run, however. As dozens of hints and plot points converge into a satisfying ending, Golden Slumber leaves the viewer with a hankering for fast food, fireworks, and revisiting old memories with old buddies. Just watch out for those fake fishing trips.

Review by Lauren Baggett

Golden Slumber

  • Yoshihiro Nakamura
  • Kôtarô Isaka (based on the novel by)
  • Yûko Takeuchi
  • Akira Emoto
  • Teruyuki Kagawa
  • Nao Ohmori
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Yoshihiro NakamuraKôtarô IsakaYûko TakeuchiAkira EmotoTeruyuki KagawaNao OhmoriDramaThriller

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