This confection is hard to watch for the first twenty minutes. The loudmouth driver in the cowboy hat is particularly irritating, and the poor distracted girl he eventually persuades to take for a ride is only just tolerable. Things begin to settle in when the great Ken-san finally moseys on in (about 25 minutes in).
Another reviewer observes that Hokkaido is a co-star. The local tourist bureau could certainly use this movie as a promotional video, as the lovely scenery of Japan's frozen north is handsomely on display here. Frankly, it is about the only aspect of the movie that held my attention while waiting for Ken-san, and remained a considerable asset from then on.
In case there can be any doubt, I will state it clearly. Yes, I can see that the young couple are mainly in this story as a foil for Ken-san. But I still contend that they take up too much screen time, and the film could only have been improved if their parts had been substantially cut. For instance, the first twenty minutes could have been cut to five minutes or less with no appreciable loss.
I hardly need say that Takakura puts in a subtle and moving performance, for which he is justly famous. And the longer he is on screen, the more the young couple improve. By the end, they are almost bearable, and the cowboy has even managed to develop some gentleness. Better late than never.
Ken's character's past is gradually revealed, and though there are no surprises here, the journey is compelling and moving. Very sentimental but highly watchable.
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