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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 stepdaugther, 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 falls 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.
Ototo is principally a slice of life movie that focuses solely on core
family values and traditions. The unconditional care and love for the
black sheep of the family which caused nothing but trouble right to the
very end, though not without frustrations and negative sentiments, is
Lots of melodrama and a very slow pace, along with some side plots that may not may not need to be in the movie, sometimes ticks me off. Fortunately the payoff coming from this movie is equally rewarding nonetheless especially on certain moments that were overwhelmingly heartwarming but very true as it can happen to any typical family relationships.
This is a very odd little Japanese movie. In the sense, that it's
narrative style might confuse a few people. We sometimes seem to loose
focus on the main character (though this is not entirely true of
course). While this family drama goes through a lot of time (and events
for that matter, most of them not really made a big topic), we stay
with a few people and their lives.
The characters and the way they are portrayed make them very engaging, so that you actually stay with them, even in times, when they do annoying things or even "bad" things. This portrays life as almost a dull affair, unless you do something about it. Though if you do something about it, you might be considered crazy or a person that is not sociable.
This was shown as part of the retrospective at the Berlin International Festival. A movie that is worth your time, if you like slow paced, but still full of impact and sometimes funny movies.
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