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A prison guard seeks happiness and redemption from his duty on death row
Faceless bureaucrats shuffle paperwork posing innumerable hanko stamps that mark the moment a life will be terminated. The life is that of illustrator Shinichi Kaneda. We don't and we won't know what crime he committed, and it does not matter. The eye of the camera compares him to a little ant crawling on the tatami, whose life is casually snatched away by a well-meaning hotel maid.
From a novel by Akira Yoshimura, "Vacation" will surprise anyone familiar with American prison dramas (or perhaps with the prison system itself) to the point of looking almost alien. Toru Hirai, is one of the prison guards, imprisoned by his job, who volunteers unsavory duty of assisting in the death of a man in exchange a one week vacation for his honeymoon, and above all to connect to an adoptive son that rejects him as his new father.
We are with Kaneda even when he is not present. Time ticks towards his execution, and the film moves nervously back and forth in time leaving pauses and silences that make the confrontation with what is happening on the screen inevitable. Kaneda cries and drinks his last glass of water. Toru , the prison guard, looks on as powerless and resigned as the spectator. The result is a poetic, but tale of redemption, and an outstanding movie about the death penalty with surprisingly little melodrama.
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