Monday, 3 October 2011


Sawako Decides  DVD, Yuya Ishii's award winning comedy, is out for sale in Britain from 24th October 2011.
Third Window Films are in serious financial trouble here since the Sony Warehouse Fire and these continuing problems with Sony messing up, so we really need your support with making these titles successful! Please order it on Amazon HERE

Sawako Decides
The Harpies turn into Angels.

Reviewed by Pablo Luis González

Sawako Decides is structured like a Greek classical play, a counterpoint between the actions of the main characters and a chorus (the women in the clam packing factory, the harpies), some scenes being choreographed almost as a kind of ballet, or tragicomedy set ups (others may argue it is structured like a pop video; however, it can be argued that the lineage of such videos can be traced to Greek classical plays). 

It begins with a rather unconventional opening scene, with Sawako, a young woman (Hikari Mitsushima, we saw her in Kakera, an actress who seems to be making a career out of performing dumb characters), lying on her side while “things” are made to her body – she hopes that all the ills of her young life will disappear as well with the minor operation, her disappointment is palpable when the nurse  disproves her. Sawako not only lays  on that medical operating table, she also lays in life, like another inert body, a young woman to whom “things” happen onto her, the boss of the toy factory where she works frankly abusing and insulting her, boyfriends dumping her, little girls running away from her. Not surprisingly, she has developed  a drink problem, recyclers must be making a fortune out of the empty cans of beer she dumps.

The title sequence is quite brilliant in establishing Sawako's mental state, her constant lethargic inertia; sitting there uttering no words, no apparent thoughts crossing her head, while her latest boyfriend talks and knits, a man who has not dumped her, not yet. Yet, as the film progresses, we learn that she is a psychologically damaged young woman, who eloped to Tokyo at the age of 18 with the captain of the tennis club (and got dumped by him soon after), fleeing from an apparently unloving father. 

After five fruitless years in Tokyo, after five different dead-end jobs and, basically, five dead-end relationships, Sawako returns home to take over the clam packing factory her gravely ill father owns and runs. Yet this decision to return was not totally her own, as she was pushed to take it by Kenichi (Masashi Endô), her latest (and fifth) boyfriend, as he sees an opportunity to escape the dead-end hopelessness of life in Tokyo, with an economy in free-fall, and to develop his idealistic interest in eco-living. For him, to go to her home village is akin to return to nature; for Sawako, to return results in digging out the corpses of past ill-feelings and past actions she had pushed to the back of her memory, and confronting the gossips of the villagers whispered on her back. Worst of all, for her to return is to confront the women, the harpies, who work in the clam packing factory: Sawako eloped, Sawako will sink the company, Sawako is incompetent. 

To compound it all, she is afraid of establishing an emotional rapport with Kenichi's little daughter, Kayoko (Kira Aihara). The girl knows that, and, in turn, is afraid of Sawako, there is a key scene when she asks: “Are you going to kill me?” Yet, when Kenichi in turn elopes back to Tokyo, leaving Kayoko behind, Sawako, now facing not only the prospect of yet another boyfriend dumping her, and confronting the fast deteriorating health of her father, decides to take charge of her live. She triumphs by gaining over Kayoko; by gaining over the women working in the clam factory, the harpies becoming her angels, the many mothers replacing the one she lost when she was a little girl; and, most importantly, gaining over her inner self, confronting her own ghosts, and defeating them.

Sawako Decides is more than a comedy, it can also be read as a parody of contemporary Japanese society, of male behaviour and drinking culture, key being the scene in the clam factory when they all sing to the promised bright future, just waiting round the corner, when orders are becoming smaller and smaller every month that passes, when the whole economy is in free fall, when the company's future is in jeopardy.

Hikari Mitsushima's performance is quite good as Sawako, the young woman who takes control of her own life, becoming someone who does “things” rather than them happening onto her.

Sawako Decides is not a flawless film, specially for a Western audience used to Hollywood products. It rambles in parts for too long (it could have gained by a tighter editing), some scenes do not ring true, some of the references are too obvious, and the acting is at points overdone, particularly from the point of view of a British sensibility. 

Yet, I laughed,  enjoyed, cried, cheered, got bored in parts, and got exasperated at moments (when I wanted to get up and kick the protagonist's arse), with Sawako Decides. Somewhat slow to get into it, however, after a while, I could not get the eyes off the screen.


About the film

Sawako has lived in Tokyo for five years, is working her fifth office job, and is dating her fifth boyfriend, who is also her boss at the office. Her life with Kenichi, her boyfriend, and his daughter from a previous marriage, Kayoko, feels like a "compromise," and she endures each day feeling distressed about her career and love life.

One day, she receives word that her father, Tadao, who runs a freshwater clam processing business in her hometown, has fallen ill. There is a reason why Sawako would rather not go back home so easily, but she reluctantly decides to return at Kenichi's insistence. But Kenichi, who had actually quit his job shortly before Sawako, uses this opportunity to come along with Sawako to her hometown with his daughter in tow.

Thus Sawako's ordeals continue. Still, she takes over her father's clam processing company and begins to work there, though she slowly starts to take charge of the situation and form a new life for herself


Hikari Mitsushima, currently one of the most noteworthy new actresses in Japan, gives an enthusiastic performance as the heroine of this story.

Masashi Endo, who breathes life into various characters in both films and TV dramas, plays Kenichi, a loser you can't help but like.

Kotaro Shiga, a fine actor who has become popular among the younger generation as "Parfait Oyaji (middle-aged man)" in the DVD series The Sanmeisama (the threesome), plays Sawako's father Tadao, who has been at odds with his daughter. Sawako's uncle Nobuo is played by Ryo Iwamatsu, who is a stage director as well as an actor who receives numerous offers from filmmakers of various generations. Furthermore, familiar faces from director Yuya Ishii's previous works give solid performances in supporting roles.

Characters of various generations and positions live selfishly and egotistically but to the best of their abilities in a town where freshwater clams are still abundant. All of these characters are depicted in a comical yet loveable way, creating a stirring drama filled with human warmth.

Yuya Ishii has continued to shine the spotlight on people who are not discouraged by adversity, while reflecting the social problems and conditions of the times. This film can be said to be a compilation of his works so far.

Director/Screenplay:Yuya Ishii
Producer:Mayumi Amano
Cinematographer:Yukihiro Okimura
Lighting:Masao Torigoe
Sound Recording:Hirokazu Kato / Mika Ochi
Production Design:Tatsuo Ozeki
Music:Samon Imamura / Chiaki Nomura
Editor:Koichi Takahashi
Scripter:Yoko Nishioka
Assistant Director:Yuki Kondo
Assistant Producer:Toshiyuki Wake

Hikari Mitsushima as Sawako
Masashi Endo as Kenichi
Kira Aihara as Kayoko
Kotaro Shiga as Sawako's father Tadao
Ryo Iwamatsu as Nobuo

Distributor: Third Window Films

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