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This is what happened: I began watching Petaru Dansu and observed four women specifically, women predominantly occupying the space in front of the camera generally while creating a life of their own replete with a blue hue to the point of almost coming across as monochromatic, the chain of events linking the women, lots of contemplative silence and open spaces free of businesses all yielding breathing room for the senses. The only identified business closes down. The voice-over narrations amplified the introspective effect.
All of this was so reminiscent of a film called tokyo.sora. Stop Petaru Dansu, go back to check and notice that the film is written and directed by Hiroshi Ishikawa whose earlier work is none other than the aforementioned Tokyo.Sora. The coincidence of the name in charge was a surprise, but it all began to make sense now. The women here were creating their own worlds - as they were in Tokyo.Sora - in a commercial-free a setting as imaginable. Even the cover for the DVD is similar to Tokyo.Sora's. There four women are observing the vista before them. Interesting, but even more so when one recalls how Ishikawa's day job is directing commercials.
In Japanese 'mai' is the word for traditional Japanese dances, while 'dansu' is used generally and for more modern dance. The film, translated as 'Petal Dance' in English, is the story of four modern Japanese women coming to grips with existence and reality and becoming comfortable dancing to life's tune. There is not a shame in bending to one's surroundings and the prevailing winds. It is actually natural to quit resisting.
There is Motoko (played by Sakura Ando) who has borrowed her ex-husband's car. Like all men in the film the husband is a side-note, largely irrelevant and consigned to the incidentals. Even when using a man's car, the owner is left behind. In fact, there are very few men even seen on camera. One could remark, complain or speculate that this is part of a societal pattern in Japan asexualizing relationships or the sexes. There is Jinko (played by Aoi Miyazaki) who has a borderline boyfriend and, in a would-be rescue attempt, recruits Haraki (played by Shiori Kutsuna), as driver to go see their hospitalized friend Miki (played by Kazue Fukiishi). Miyazaki's boyfriend (perhaps now an ex) calls and wills to have his girlfriend back. Miki, and her quest for freedom, should be the focal point and is, but is overshadowed due to her late appearance. By far, the biggest impression is made by Haraki who is sympathetic, kind and not the least bit because to a large extent she reminds one of Aoi Yu. Although there is a physical resemblance, like Yu Haraki impresses by being expressive while being impassive and sympathetic. Just watching Kutsuna in Petaru Dansu prompted me to go back and watch the scene in Hana & Alice in which Yu receives a call from her agent regarding a job.
Back in this film, the women have little to do physically. The script gives them obvious freedom, but perhaps that is the hardest task of all: to be serene, pensive and natural on camera... or as the Japanese would say simply 'ga.' Finally, a couple of notes. The movie implies the companions drive north much, but most of the film was shot in Chiba near Tokyo. A glider is often seen flying overhead riding the wind. Does anyone recall the helicopter often overhead in the movie Grand Canyon, which was always there for no stated reason? Still on a side note I find the concept of a shop called Nekorai tender. An owner who does not like cats has named his shop Nekorai. Neko ('cat') plus Rai (Kanji for 'come') is so named to suggest that even cats are welcome at the shop despite the owner's aversion.
There you have it. It is a living breathing film quintessentially Ishikawa. He also has a third film to his credit, namely Sukida. As such and since the director makes a film every seven to eight years viewers should expect a new one from him circa 2020 or so.
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