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You know you're watching a Nobuhiko Obayashi film if it's a coming-of- age (seishun) story set in the town of Onomichi, with cats, watermelons, pianos, bizarre effect work and the feeling of timelessness and nostalgia overlapping the entire thing. In some aspects, Futari (lit. The Two of Us, better known as Chizuko's Younger Sister) met my expectations and in others, it left me kinda bored at several scenes.
Futari is a touching movie about two sisters, Mika and Chizuko. Chizuko is a perfect child, while Mika is the opposite of her. Chizuko dies in an accident and reappears as a ghost, guiding her little sister. This movie is 2,5 hours long, so naturally, a lot more things happen, but this is basically the backbone.
Obayashi's fantastic sense of mise-en-scene and surreal, visceral imagery shines as in this one, as in the other films of his that I've seen. The indoor design shifts from Mika's messy room full of decorative colors to tidy, clear views of the rest of the house. However, even those stretches feel like personalized space, with papers and white hats hanging from the ceiling.
Obayashi probably never made a conventional movie in his life, and Futari is no exception. The story, adapted from Jiro Akagawa's novel, is at times very serious and a bit dark, but Obayashi transforms it into a carefree tale with plenty of humor. That isn't to say that there aren't atmospheric and slow moments. In fact, the movie feels like an amalgamation of various different styles. The film casually shifts from a race scene with strange Mario Paint effects and a strange soundtrack to accompany it, to a slow-paced conversation in the living room which lasts for several minutes without the actors moving at all.
Some scenes really do achieve greatness, such as Mika's performance of a Schumman piece, or the expressionistic opening scene which is later mimicked by the final one, however Futari is definitely undeserving of its runtime and several moments can be quite tedious. However, that's completely fine as long as there are sights such as Beethoven's 9th played on a ship with dimension-bending fireworks in the background, or the mentioned race scene where the runners enter a cave full of inexplicable and unpredictable creepy sounds which are never referred to again. Also, rapists in Onomichi apparently wear classy evening suits.
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