The Tale Of Nishino (Nishino Yukihiko no koi to bôken)
Japan (2014) Dir. Nami Iguchi
A lot of men like to think of themselves as God’s Gift to Women (and invariably aren’t) but what if a man was somehow irresistible to all females? Is a dream come true or a living nightmare? Hiromi Kawakami’s 2006 novel Nishino Yukihiko no Koi to Boken is an attempt to seek an answer, brought to the big screen by Nami Iguchi, noted for her quirky comedy dramas, such as Don’t Laugh At My Romance.
Our test subject is Yukihiko Nishino (Yutaka Takenouchi) a quiet, ordinary chap, fairly good looking and well mannered. We first meet him at small seas side cafe with former love Natsumi (Kumiko Aso) and her five year old daughter Minami (Momone Shinokawa). Nishino claims he wants to settle down and marry but Natsumi scoffs at this, saying it isn’t in him. Ten years later Nishino runs across a road to see an old female friend and gets knocked down by a van.
Nishino’s ghost pays fifteen year-old Minami (Yurika Nakamura) a visit at her home, Natsumi no longer in the picture. After getting over the initial shock and getting used to the fact only she can see him, Minami accompanies Nishino to his cremation service, populated by many a female mourner. There Minami meets Sayuri (Sawako Agawa), a housewife and one of Nishino’s many admirers who reveals to Minami Nishino’s history with women.
The first thing that needs to be established about this story is that it is an atypical depiction of the central theme, which may be down to the feminine touch or perhaps because the story you would expect to see has been done a million times before. What hits us from the onset is that Nishino doesn’t try to attract the ladies, they literally seem to gravitate towards him and the rest falls into place, sort of.
If Nishino feels something then it will happen but if he doesn’t it won’t, yet that doesn’t stop the ladies from wishing and hoping and trying to stoke the flames. Sayuri, whom he met at a cooking class, seems to be the exception insofar as falling for Nishino but accepting nothing would happen between them. We assume that this and the age difference is why Nishino felt he could confide in Sayuri his life story which she now relates to Minami.
While it is made clear that Natsumi was Nishino’s true love, she wasn’t this first serious romance. That honour, if you will, falls to Nishino’s senior at work Manami (Machiko Ono) a shy and serious woman who falls under Nishino’s spell when he draws her hair from her face. Whilst having after work drinks, they bump into Kanoko (Tsubasa Honda) an ex-girlfriend of Nishino’s who wants to rekindle their extinct flame despite having a new boyfriend. Unfortunately this occurs just as Manami declares her love for Nishino.
As love triangles go this is one of the sot polite and subdued one ever depicted on film, outside of a couple of slaps thrown by Manami, which sums up the entire film. Iguchi appears to be in no hurry to share this tale with us which may be its undoing for some audiences. The pace is languid which is not always a bad thing but Iguchi often lingers too much on inconsequential shots and these longueurs come across more like time fillers.
To illustrate this point after the brisk opening sequences, it takes over fifteen minutes for Nishino to make his presence felt at Minami’s home and a further fifteen to get to the funeral. Further still the central crux of the main storyline does arrive until the 90 minutes mark which really should have been the run time for this film as the two hours does seem excessive for this yarn.
But, to Iguchi’s credit she manages to coax such strong and natural performances from the cast the time passes by almost unnoticed in the second half, having created such a relaxing world for us to become immersed into, even with the short bouts of tension between Nishino’s many lovers – which includes his lesbian couple neighbours Tama (Fumino Kimura) and Subaru (Riko Narumi).
Don’t think this last development as some kind of contrived or mystical gimmick, or even a sign of Nishino’s conceit, his gentle charm and the fact the girls’ cat Nau also takes to him merely reflects how simple human traits as humility go a long way in attracting the opposite sex. I should mention a great moment when Nishino and tama pair off, Nau is watching on, not knowing where to look, his wide eyes expressing the shock we are share before running off!
The story unfolds in a unique part-flashback manner and wanders down some interesting paths but keeping us invested are the performances of the superb cast. Yutaka Takenouchi doesn’t appear to do much but in fact is quietly dynamic as Nishino, balancing a fine line between average and good looking to make this Casanova credible. He is supported by a string of talented women, some of whom slip out of their comfort zones to bring their characters to life, and are the real heart of this film.
Machiko Ono, often playing the demure type, starts off portraying Manami as such but once the love bug bites she slowly transforms into a giggling teenager, in a fun and rather cute scene which shows another side to Ono’s impressive range. Tsubasa Honda is vibrantly feisty as the predatory Kanoko while veteran Sawako Agawa provides some gentle grace as Sayuri. Kumiko Aso is woefully underused in her bookending turn as Natsumi, with promising teen Yurika Nakamura faring a little better as teenage Minami.
The Tale Of Nishino offers a unique twist on an age old subject in a languid manner to create a romantic atmosphere from free slush and saccharine sentiment. Some tighter editing would help but the charm and believability of the cast make for a wholly engaging watch.