The Story Of Yonosuke (Cert PG)
1 Disc (Distributor: Third Window Films) Running Time: 160 minutes approx.
Tokyo 1987 and eighteen year-old Yonosuke Yokomichi (Kengo Kora) arrives from Nagasaki to begin business admin classes at Hosei University. There he meets Yusuke Kato (Go Ayano), a secretly gay man, who is invited on a double date by classmate Mutsumi Toi (Aimi Satsukawa) who brings her rich friend Shoko Yosano (Yuriko Yoshitaka) along. Shoko is immediately drawn to Yonosuke and inveigles an invite to his hometown when he returns for summer break. However Yonosuke is blind to Shoko’s affection as he is besotted with gold digger Chiharu Katase (Ayumi Ito), a friend of Shoko’s brother.
Summarising the plot of this near three hour follow-up to the polarising The Woodsman and the Rain from Shûichi Okita isn’t quite as simple as the above synopsis may suggest, due to the sheer wealth of events that take place. Then again, this is also a film where very little seems to happen. A paradox for sure but to understand this sentiment, one has to see this film. Based on the 2009 novel Yokomichi Yonosuke by Shuichi Yoshida, Okita delivers what could lazily be described as a Japanese Forrest Gump, which doesn’t do it any justice as this film is free from socio-political commentary and schmaltzy Hollywood sentimentality.
Yonosuke (an apparent comedy name in Japan as everyone laughs whenever he introduces himself) is an unusual character in that he isn’t quite an idiot savant yet he’s not the sharpest knife in the draw either, but he does have a tremendous heart which affects everyone he meets, the central conceit of the story. With his shaggy unkempt mop of hair, wiry frame and wide eyed naivety, Yonosuke cuts an amusing and unlikely figure to be the protagonist for such a heart-warming story but he is, providing living proof that what is on the inside is important, leading to fruitful lives for all around him.
The first people he sets onto the road of happiness are Ippei Kuramochi (Sosuke Ikematsu), whom he meets during the welcome ceremony at university, and Yui Akutsu (Aki Asakura), who strikes up a conversation with Yonosuke during class. They all inadvertently sign up for the samba class together, despite Ippei upsetting Yui upon their first meeting, but by the time they go on a club camp weekend, Ippei admits he and Yui are now a couple. Aside from two further scenes later in the film, this subplot is largely shunted into the background while the focus switches to Yonosuke and Shoko.
Suffering a similar fate is Chiharu Katase, the party girl who sets Yonosuke’s heart a fluttering upon first sight after an introduction from highflying friend Ozawa (Emoto Tasuku). Recognising this willing catch in her net, Katase has Yonosuke pose as her brother when ending it with one of her lovers, walking away with a neat pay off in the process. Later, at a pool party at Shoko’s family house, Yonosuke is shocked to see Katase show up but nonetheless delighted, Shoko less so. Afforded one further appearance, Katase is another character whose importance is lessened as time goes on, rendering her contribution to the story rather ineffective overall.
The relationship between Shoko and Yonosuke is a curious one as he is the ostensive smart one of the duo, a result of her privileged life of being driven everywhere by a chauffeur and having a maid tend to her. On the double date Shoko is introduced to the delights of eating a burger with her hands, which she finds highly amusing (as she does everything). Another under developed sub plot upon returning to Nagasaki sees the introduction of Yonosuke’s ex-girlfriend Sakura (an unrecognisable Mei Kurokawa) who has since moved on but is enough of a presence for Shoko to be threatened.
So, how do we know that Yonosuke touched their lives? Occasionally the film will jump ahead to some point in the future (estimated around twenty years) the characters have a sudden nostalgic moment in which Yonosuke was involved. Presumably this is handled differently and more effectively in the book, so we have to take what we can get as far as this adaptation is concerned. On reflection had these scenes been left until the end it would have meant a downbeat and morose denouement, while the one we get if for more effective, connecting some of the dots introduced throughout the film.
The epic run time of two hours and forty minutes is likely to be the deal clincher to drive people away from watching this and to be honest it could have quite feasibly been shorter. The beginning is rather slow and doesn’t seem to promise much we haven’t already seen in other low key, quirky Japanese slice-of-life comedies. However perseverance is required and soon our hapless hero and his cast of fellow oddballs start to make a connection. The humour is subtle and rarely does one laugh out loud, but a few cute giggles are assured along the way, even if you don’t really know why you find something amusing.
None of the characters are so over the top that they ruin the story, which is a trap Okita successfully avoids. Kengo Kora is almost too physically perfect or the role of Yonosuke but gets to show his acting chops in creating such a bewildering yet endearing character. But, it is the fabulous turn of Yuriko Yoshitaka as Shoko who undermines Kora’s nominal position as the film’s star, her nuanced and joyful essaying of the spoiled kooky teen who learns about the real world from her unlikely beau is a riveting watch.
This might be under selling it, but The Story Of Yonosuke is typically Japanese which will mean many things to many people. It’s not an obvious hit at first but it is one that eventually creeps up on you and, just like the main character, leaves a deep impression without you realising it.
Rating – ****
Man In Black