HAWAII INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
"A Gentle Breeze in the Village" is the latest offering from Nobuhiro Yamashita.
Striking pair of films opens HIFF spring showcase
A teenage girl, on her way to her first day in high school, looks into the darkened schoolroom she went to with her childhood friends, her face softened with wistful fondness.
HIFF's 11th Annual Spring Showcase
Where: Dole Cannery multiplex
"A Gentle Breeze in the Village (Tennen Kokekko)"
Screens noon tomorrow and 1 p.m. Saturday
"The Edge of Heaven (Auf Der Anderen Seite)"
Screens 3 p.m. tomorrow and noon Sunday
A man patiently waits on a beach for his father, who he hasn't seen in many years, to return from fishing. He sits on the sand with anticipation, his back facing the camera.
The first day of the Hawaii International Film Festival's Spring Showcase kicks off with two remarkable films that, while very unlike each other in tone and approach, both address feelings of displacement, whether on a more private and personal manner, or one that reflects larger ethnic and political differences.
Local audiences should immediately take to heart "A Gentle Breeze in the Village," based on a popular girls' manga title and the latest film by Nobuhiro Yamashita, whose previous "Linda Linda Linda" also showed the lives of adolescent schoolgirls in an honest and sympathetic light. The girl in his new film is an impressionable eighth-grader named Soyo, given a luminous portrayal by the actress Kaho. All seems well in Soyo's rural, coastal village life - she is one of a handful of students who goes to a school so small that she's a friend to the youngest - until one of the village elders allows his recently divorced daughter and his grandson to move in with him, both bringing their big-city attitudes from Tokyo.
Soyo thinks the boy, Hiromi (Masaki Okada), is "gorgeous," and so what starts as a crush develops into a tenuous relationship between the two. There's a particularly lovely scene further in the film that, while it quietly centers on Soyo sewing a button onto Hiromi's jacket, speaks volumes of their growing affection for each other.
We also see Soyo and Hiromi, as the only two seniors in the class, going on a chaperoned field trip to Tokyo. It's interesting to see how Soyo, as Hiromi rough-houses with his old school friends he meets up with, navigates through this strange terrain, bravely trying to find her place in this new world, both inner and outer.
Yamashita and cinematographer Ryuto Kondo capture the natural aura of the village and its surroundings that act like grace notes throughout the film, and Rei Harakami's minimalist electronic score makes for a perfect soundtrack. While the lives of the adults add some needed complication for contrast - the suicide of a woman whose ghost may be haunting the bridge she jumped from, and a rekindled relationship between Soyo's father and Hiromi's hairdresser mom - the focus is on the young people, and both have their moment to endear themselves to the audience.
A charming movie, "Breeze" moves at a languid pace, and if you allow yourself to go with the flow, it makes for an enjoyable experience.
The bond between two students - one Turkish and the other German - is a crucial storyline.
"RIVETING" would be the word to use for the ambitious "The Edge of Heaven," the anticipated second feature from writer-director Fatih Akin, who made a debut splash with 2003's "Head-On," his boldly told love story that illustrated the cultural clash between Germany and its Turkish immigrants.
Akin continues to explore that theme in his latest film, one that he flatly states "is about death." In fact, the first two parts of the film deal directly with how the deaths of a reformed Turkish prostitute, Yeter (Nursel Köse), and an idealistic German student, Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska), help bring a kind of resolution to the lives of the other people they have touched - Nejat (Baki Davrak), a Turkish college professor who teaches literature in German at a university; Lotte's mother Susanne (the great Hanna Schygulla), whose free-spirited past mirrors her now-dead daughter's; Ali (Tuncel Kurtiz), the amoral boor of an uncle who buys Yeter's companionship, and who raised Nejat himself after the boy's parents abandoned him; and Ayten (Nurgül Yesilcay), the prostitute's long-lost daughter who has become a Turkish student revolutionary who later tries to seek political asylum in Germany.
The two women's deaths motivate Nejat and Susanne to travel - separately and unbeknownst to each other - to Istanbul to find Ayten. And the film's aforementioned final shot makes for an apt resolution and holds a promise to Nejat's life that the film's title reflects.
"The Edge of Heaven" is a richly told tale, a taut and tough-minded movie, but one with a lot of heart. I don't want to give away how all of these characters' stories interweave with each other, but it works, and that's part of the pleasure of being drawn into this film.
With Akin winning a best screenplay award at last year's Cannes Film Festival, he's two-for-two, and rightly considered one of the world's best directors.