A long, strange trip. Well, not that strange compared to other Japanese movies I’ve seen, but didn’t go in any direction I expected. The beginning (which I’ve watched before) shows a hijacker killing off hostages before getting taken out by the police, leaving only the bus driver (the great Kôji Yakusho, who himself played a kidnapper in Tokyo Sonata) and two kids alive. Now we’ve got over three hours left to follow these three depressed individuals as they do nothing much. Oh, and it’s all b/w sepia-toned, which I thought was supposed to correlate to the survivors’ sense of distance from the world around them, the current moment already seeming like a faded postcard, confirmed when it turns to color as the girl lightens up in the final scene.
Anyway, after the incident bus driver Makoto is disappearing for months at a time and working low-ambition jobs, while the children (Kozue and her older brother Naoki) are on their own after one parent leaves and the other dies… so Makoto moves in with them, soon joined by the kids’ older cousin Akihiko (Yôichirô Saitô of The Mourning Forest) on summer break from classes. Nothing happens, so Makoto buys a bus and the four tour the countryside where nothing continues to happen. Except young women are getting murdered wherever they go. Makoto is suspected, but he catches Naoki red-handed and turns him in. Akihiko, pretty much the only one of them who ever says anything, says that past traumas always cause people to contemplate murder (a dubious theory), but he makes M. angry and gets kicked out of the bus. Cathartic ending, Kozue speaking for the first time in ages, turn to color, etc.
Weird, the young girl Aoi Miyazaki seems to play the same character in Aoyama’s Sad Vacation, as do a couple other actors. After watching this and the director’s made-for-TV Mike Yokohama flick, I don’t think I’ll be renting Sad Vacation in a big hurry. Got nothing against long, slow, monochrome movies about sad people (hello, Bela Tarr), but Aoyama’s particular sad people aren’t doing it for me.