Teenage girl falls in love. Her crush goes to the shop and doesn’t come back. She moves from small city to big city and falls in love with someone who looks exactly like the man who abandoned her. They fall in love and live happily for five years. Then the love from the past returns, and he is now rich and famous. Said girl is left in a very difficult situation. Sounds clichéd? That’s because it is. Asako I & II is also banal, futile, predictable and poorly acted. It’s probably the worst film in competition at Cannes this year.
The girl in question is Asako and she’s played by Erika Karata. The small(ish) city is Osaka and the big city is Tokyo. Asako has the habit of standing still with her mouth shut without moving a single muscle, and that’s when the actress is at her most convincing. Otherwise she feels forced and unnatural. Her acting skills are very limited, it seems. The same applies to other actors. Masahiro Higashide plays both Ryohei (the new love) and Baku (the revenant), and he comes across as infantile in both roles. At one point, Asako’s friend Maya (Rio Yamashita), who dreams of becoming a famous actress, bemoans her very own acting skills. It’s almost as if Rio was talking about her very own stiff performance!
The script is extremely conventional and most people will guess how the film ends roughly halfway through the 120-minute story. There are no surprises. The message conveyed is also very conventional, revealing how rigid and conservative Japanese society remains to this day. A friend explains to Asako: “men find it unbearable to be with a woman who has had another man’s penis inside her”. How profound! And the final resolution of the movie screams out loud: “stick to the more convenient path and stay out of trouble!!!”. The film closes with an invaluable pearl of wisdom. Asako looks at the passing river and professes: “the waters are dirty, but still beautiful”. Such originality. Words fail me. The soundtrack is bubblegum-cheesy, and not even groovy.
Not all is awful about this movie. Praise must go to Jintan the Cat. The observant feline follows the action closely and even gets involved in a crucial moment at the end. His profound eyes communicate far more than the other characters.
Asako I &II showed in competition at the 71 Cannes Film Festival, when this piece was originally written. It premiered in the UK as part of the BFI London Film Festival. On Mubi on Saturday, February 12th.