Friday 29 June 2018

Japanese Film Festival (Sydney) - Barrie Pattison reviews HONNOUJI HOTEL (Masayaki Suzuki, Japan, 2017)

The Japanese have departed from the current national film event model running their festival one film a month in the Event multiplex.  I kind of miss their sixteen millimeter screenings, which were free, but this approach offers more recent material and theatrical presentation values.

This week we scored Masayuki Suzuki's Honnouji hoteru/Honnuji Hotel a big new A feature that you could think of as Japanese Berkeley Squareor their Les Visiteurs without the gags. 

We open in fifteenth century Osaka and move to the present where Haruka Ayase Ayase (Hirokazu Koreeda’s  Umimachi Diary/Our Little Sister) whose employer has gone bust, has settled for marriage to Hiroyuki Hirayama, his family having taken over her wedding arrangements. When she arrives in Osaka a street promoter gives her a Hot Spa Matchmaker leaflet and she buys a bag of the hard candy that historic ruler Oda Nobunaga is supposed to have enjoyed. 

However, the flash hotel where she intended staying has no vacancies and she tries the digital Honnouji Hotel on the site where the famous Honnouji incident is supposed to have happened. Manager Morio Kazama tells her the antique wind up mechanism she examines in the foyer doesn’t work anymore and she takes her room key and gets into the lift chewing the candy. The mechanism turns over and the lift deposits her in the sixteenth century - this is quite well done with daylight falling on her face and her doubling back through the lift door only taking her to the other side of the wooden screen.

On the timber walkway she encounters retainer Gaku Hamada who tells her about the ruler. “My Lord is a cruel and brutal leader - like a demon.” She encounters Shin'ichi Tsutsumi  (Sion Sono’s Jigoku de naze warui/Why Don’t You Play in Hell) as Lord Nobunaga. He’s busily psyching the visiting trader into giving him the priceless tea caddy making up the set that marks the unification of Japan. Ayase outrages the courtiers by her violations of court etiquette -  like using his name in his presence. It looks like he might have her beheaded on the spot.

Ayase gets rocked back and forwards between the court and the present, leaving her shoes behind and getting kitted out in a kimono, as the story of her wedding, and Nobunaga’s plan to bring happiness, by uniting the country alternate. She undermines his confidence by pointing out that none of his courtiers, who go in fear of their lives, are smiling. He takes her out into the streets where the citizens are cheerful and busy (not bad, though Tsutsumi loses presence without the awestruck retinue) and she brings back the Buri Buri children's game which delights the stiff retainers and at which he proves to be an expert knocking the paper fan off its support with the wooden ball.

Back in the present, she learns of the revolt that led to his suicide in the company of devoted Hamada and is warned about changing history, which gives the writers a problem they are not all that good at solving. The characters seem rather casual about being in a blazing arrow inferno that would fry anyone.  The sunny ending, which does open up the possibilities of a more interesting sequel, isn’t really a great fit.

Production values are good - big convincing sets, lots of costumed extras, horse riding warriors with fluttering blue and yellow Samurai banners, inventive transitions and the 90 degree edits we saw in the old in the old Shintaro TV series back again, all very Japanese.

This one is a bit bland for my taste though it has its moments. Hard to tell how representative it is of current production.

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