Monday, March 19, 2018

Omotenashi gets the 2018 Hong Kong International Film Festival off to a promising start! (Film review)

The director (second from the right), lead actors (far left and 
second from the left) and lead actress (third from the left) 
at the international premiere of their film
Omotenashi (Taiwan-Japan, 2018)
- From the HKIFF's Galas program
- Jay Chern, director, co-scriptwriter (with Mami Sunada), co-producer (with Junichi Kitagawa) and cinematographer
- Starring: Edison Wang Po Chieh, Rena Tanaka, Kimiko Yo, Lea Yang, Yao Chun Yao 
The 2018 Hong Kong International Film Festival got going this evening with a rare Opening Film that, unlike the likes of Aberdeen (2014), Trivisa (2016) and Love Off the Cuff (2017), is not a local production.  The disappointment felt by some film fans can be gauged by tickets for Omotenashi not having sold out as quickly as for, say, the two Opening Films of recent years that were directed by Pang Ho Cheung.  
Still, the director and stars of this Taiwan-Japan co-production whose title is the Japanese word for the Japanese form of hospitality were received warmly enough when they showed up to greet the audience before the screening and, more importantly, they and their movie received an even more enthusiastic round of applause as the end credits rolled on the screen; one that, in my (not so) humble opinion, was well earned.
The first feature film of 36-year-old Jay Chern to receive a cinematic release, Omotenashi is a mature drama that makes sure that its veteran cast members get chances to shine along with the fresh-faced lead actors.  Edison Wang Po Chieh (who face, not just first name, can call to mind Edison Chen's!) plays Jacky, the young, upstart son of Taiwanese construction magnate Charles (Lea Yang), who goes to Japan -- ostensibly to supervise the renovation of an old ryokan located on the shores of Lake Biwa that's run by Charles' old flame, Mitsuko (Kimiko Yo), and her daughter Rika (Rena Tanaka), with the help of  Bo Hao (Yao Chun Yao), a young Taiwanese man with a love for Japanese manga and anime.
The only one of the quartet to be unable to speak Japanese, Jacky also is in a different camp from Charles, Mitsuko and Rika in his working behind his father as well as the two women's backs to sell off the ryokan that Charles acquired to get Mitsuko out of financial trouble after the premature death of her husband (and Rika's father).  But with each passing day that he spends at the ryokan and in Japan, where his father went to university and fell in love, Jacky (who also has a Japanese old flame whose heart has been won by another of his own) gets his heart and mind being tugged in different directions from what he's used to.    
As preparation for the ryokan to host its first ever wedding, Mitsuko get Jacky, Rika and Bo Hao take lessons on omotenashi from strict but good-hearted Kimura-sensei (Tae Kimura) who, among other things, arranges for them to meet Shimizu-sensei, the kind of gracious as well as graceful lady who, as Bo Hao remarks, looked like she had stepped out of a Yasujiro Ozu film.  Since she's played by Kyoko Kagawa, who really did feature in a number of Ozu movies, this is one of those moments that will make cineastes smile; with more layers to this in-joke coming from this movie that's so respectful of the past having been co-produced by Shochiku, the Japanese film studio that Ozu's most associated with
Lest it be thought otherwise, however, rest assured that Omotenashi contains some truly novel touches.  For one thing, it's the rare film that has Japanese actresses delivering the bulk of their dialogue in Mandarin (in the case of Rena Tanaka) and English (in the case of Mina Fujii, who portrays the woman Jacky loves) along with two Taiwanese actors (Lea Yang and Yao Chun Yao) playing characters fluent in Japanese as well as Mandarin and another (Edison Wang) fluent in English as well as Mandarin (but not Japanese)!    

Rather than feeling muddled, it all makes sense.  Indeed, the film's multi-lingual nature actually adds layers to the heart-warming movie's story and also produces funny moments: one of which comes about because someone understands a language it's forgotten in the moment that she understands; another of which comes about because another person shows that, while she doesn't understand Mandarin, she nonetheless is familiar with a beloved singer from Taiwan whose fame's not restricted to that island!

My rating for the film: 8.0

No comments: