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meditative and personal, a quiet little triumph for Sion Sono
In contrast to Sion Sono's previous film, his most recent work, Be Sure to Share, is, first of all, more than half the running length (108 minutes to 239 minutes for Love Exposure), and secondly more centered on family ties, the love between a father and son as opposed to teenagers.
It's the story of a son, now in his twenties, who looks back on his relationship over the years with his father, who happened to also be the gym teacher at his school and was a strict taskmaster as soccer coach, while he suffers from cancer. He's recovering well in his bed, and soon he and his son are bonding closer than they ever had before, as the father relates his latest habit of fishing at a specific lake on an old bench. But there's a twist as the son finds he's not feeling well, and when he goes to the doctor to get tests he is told that he is suffering from cancer as well- possibly far farther along than his father's is, and potentially fatal. This puts the son into a determined mind-set: he will not die before his father, so that they can hopefully share some peace of mind by that lake to fish.
Sono's film is led mostly by the son's narration, and some of his memories of his father's connection to his son in his youth. We see the unique dynamic where a father is also the son's teacher, and for example the son's punishment for calling his dad "dad" as opposed to coach or teacher during a lesson, or when he is woken up at dawn to jog, a habit the son carries with him for the rest of his life. And when it comes to the scenes of the father and son in present-day, or on occasion the father and his wife (there's a short, touching scene where he asks her to cuddle close with him in the hospital bed, something we get the feeling hasn't happened in a long while), things are more level-headed between the two, the older and slightly wiser father and the son hiding his secret from his parents and his close friends.
There's a twist that occurs which I won't reveal, but it brings ahead one of the most stunning scenes I've seen from Sono. I can say that it takes place at the spot where the father had been fishing, and it involves a moment where the son has to finally come to grips with his true bond with his father. The filmmaker that informs this particular scene by the lake, as well as much of the rest of the picture, is Yasujiro Ozu. His films were dramas that were deceptively simple, at least to start, mostly involving parents and children or grandparents and children, and how over the course of the story we see what lies beneath things, the soul of their ties.
It's the kind of movie that a filmmaker who has just come off of making a four hour epic needs to make; it's not a major work, but as a small production that keeps its aims low, it has some remarkable rewards for the patient viewer. And, in its own way, it features some equally amazing cinematography as L.E., such as with the flashback scenes on the soccer field, or with the tender use of the music score that compliments those little things in life like two people fishing together.
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