Sunday, August 22, 2010

[Japanese Film Festival] Her Brother (Otouto)


Yoji Yamada's film About Her Brother was a tribute to Kon Ichikawa's film Otouto, and I won't be able to tell you how so given that I've not seen Yamada's film in its entirety, suffice to say that both films are family melodramas that dwell primarily on the relationships between siblings, where the titular brother is actually the black sheep of the family for the shenanigans he gets into, and the troubles brought onto the family, especially for his sister.

Her Brother, or Otouto, tells of the story of a family of four. Dad does nothing but write on a daily basis, or spend time calculating the financial bleed brought about by son Hekiro (Hiroshi Kawaguchi) whose laziness, troubles and general irresponsible behaviour he condones as part of experience building and growing up. I suspect too that in an Asian society boys generally get away with a lot of things as compared to the girls. His sister Gen (Keiko Kishi) becomes the primary caregiver of the family, since their incessantly complaining Christian step-mum is almost rendered an invalid given her chronic rheumatism, and so Gen does most of the work at home to become the cook, mender, cleaner and errant runner.

And what is a family drama without issues faced by the family? So we have a step-mum who rather believes outsiders such as Mrs Tanuma (Kyoko Kishida, the same actress from A Flame at the Pier) who proves to be quite the influence), rather than Gen her stepdaughter, which of course frustrates Gen. And the story has a pointed critique on religious fanaticism with the behaviour of the mother, but it's not all that bad as she makes at effort later to do things despite personal pain.

But the main problem here will be Hekiro being spoilt by a father who essentially allows him to do as he pleases, and thus his recklessness and devil may care attitude sometimes helps Gen, but mostly requires her to bail him out from sticky situations created by the owing of money to establishments such as billiard parlours, boat houses and even a horse owner. Being a lazy bum in school and mixing with bad company also spells trouble, but Gen's complaints consistently fall on deaf ears.

Does the family disintegrate? Of course not. Like almost all families, testy issues will crop up, but blood runs thicker than water, especially the strong bonds between sister and brother that the film goes all out to illustrate. Credit goes to the actors Hiroshi Kawaguchi and Keiko Kishi in their roles to deliver that believable chemistry and banter being siblings, which hits home a lot more when trouble besets one of them, and the entire family has got to adjust to the impending change. In some way I felt this film also became the precursor to many teenage romantic films out there where tragedies spring up with the introduction of a deadly disease that will be used to highlight character devotion and love, and Otouto contains this aspect by the bucketloads.

While some subplots are forgettable, such as the advances of a supposed cop Rokuno who's up to no good, there are ample touching moments especially in the second half for that tissue packet to be opened. The big fights also reminded me of some of my own many years in the past (*blush*), and yes, reconciliation very much happens faster than you can spell out that word. Such is family. What I enjoyed most out of this film was the look back at societal norms and attitudes of the time, where girls are encouraged to do just about everything in order to prepare for that one singular path in life – marriage, where they are supposed to continue in their domesticated role almost forever, and their value and contribution to their future households hinges very much in what they can do at the present time. And I'd like to think that this has already mostly changed in modern day civilizations.

I had enjoyed the film, so I guess what remains now is to find an opportunity to watch Yoji Yamada's tribute film in its entirety to see which aspects got retained, and just how a tribute film is done.

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