The Cowards Who Looked to the Sky (2012) Poster

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7/10
human frailty
CountZero31311 December 2015
A handsome high school boy begins an affair with an older married woman. When their sex tape ends up on the internet, various lives are changed forever.

The themes of adolescent coming of age, socioeconomic class divisions in Japan, and family dysfunction, are all common concerns of modern-day Japanese cinema. Protagonist Takumi, too damn good-looking for his own good, seems surrounded by women - a doe-eyed classmate, his married sex friend, and a single-mother at a home which doubles as a Natural Birth clinic. Takumi gets to have the unusual experience for a teenage boy of experiencing the sweat, stench and tears of life coming into being first-hand.

The sexual politics are wryly observed and the sexual encounters framed in a manner that strips them of their eroticism and makes them touching and vulnerable. Tomoko Tabata as Anzu is perfect as the needy housewife trapped with a useless husband and a (slightly overdrawn) domineering mother-in-law. Another story intrudes late in the narrative, that of Takumi's friend Ryota (Masataka Kubota). Less blessed in the looks department than Takumi, and with a mother who cares little about her offspring, unlike Takumi's devoted and wise mother, Ryota's fickle mix of jealousy and loyalty towards Takumi proves destructive.

The characters are strong and engaging and the story would draw you in, were it not for the odd decision to structure this as a triptych, with an overlong final third devoted to Ryota's plight. This leaves Takumi and Anzu off-screen for a good half-hour right when we are most interested in seeing their reactions. Cut by at least 20 minutes, and telling all these characters tales chronologically, this would be a much more involving film. As it is the structure is a massive flaw in an otherwise mature and admirable film.
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