JAPAN 2010 Directed & Produced by: Genjiro Arato Written by: Osamu Dazai (novel) Cast: Toma Ikuta, Yusuke Iseya, Satomi Ishihara, Eiko Koike, Maki Sakai, Shinobu Terajima, Shigeru Muroi, Renji Ishibashi, Go Morita, Michiyo ookusu, Yoshiko Mita
Yozo Oba, born into a very wealthy family in Tsugaru, never really seems to fit in since his childhood. For many years he plays by the rules however, keeping up the façade of someone who fulfills the expectations of his family, friends and society. Once grown up however Yozo’s behavior gets more and more eccentric, fuelled by the early predictions of his classmate Dakeichi who tells him that he will be very popular with women and become a painter.
Once Yozo has moved to Tokyo to attend high school things get worse as he finds Tokyo being a place of slovenly life, drowning him in endless nights of alcohol and affairs, also thanks to a strange new friend, Horiki, who is six years older than him and lives life in the fast lane. Yozo’s own life is spinning out of control as the more he gets sick of himself the more he indulges in self-destructive behavior. The bars of Tokyo become his new home, women with no name his company and his art his only true love, which remains unfulfilled however as he never gets the recognition that he thinks he deserves.
Osamu Dazai’s quasi-autobiographical novel is heavily influenced by the depression of the (pre-)WWII era, even though in the beginning it primarily tells us about Yozo’s alienation as a child and his inability to socialize ever since. With him moving to Tokyo the environment changes fundamentally and that’s also when the world war has an increasing influence on the mood and tone of THE FALLEN ANGEL.
It is that Yozo’s own state of mind reflects the state of the nation, its ambitions as well as its failure and desperation. This connection between Yozo and everyone else – a surreal connection between someone entirely disconnected from the world and society –is the movie’s often overlooked true strength. Yozo and all of Japan are like mirrors, equal in terms of hopelessness and isolation, finding their reality on the brink of collapse, just for different reasons. Yozo as well as Japan have robbed themselves of a future and now indulge in their own downfall.
Whatever leads to this point however is less accomplished than the second half or last third of the movie. Yozo, played by popular Japanese idol Toma Ikuta, mostly doesn’t seem to be more than a pathetic poster boy, a superficial mannequin without depth, dwelling on platitudes most of the time. We never really feel him being a talented artist, or a real lady-killer for that matter. Toma Ikuta is quite believable as the misfit (some say he is actually miscast), but in view of lack of personality it never seems plausible why the ladies would fall for him or why anyone should care about his weepy torment.
Dazai’s novel was considered to be impossible to film, but Arato most certainly has taken a good look at DEATH IN VENICE and figured if this brilliant and at least equally complex and hard to film novel can be successfully adapted then NINGEN SHIKKAKU can be done as well. He has however not taken some key points into consideration.
First of all, that he is not the new Luchino Visconti. Nobody is. No one ever will be. Secondly, that the tragic hero is not the pretty boy, but the old writer played by Dirk Bogarde whose character is much more mature and hence his actions are so much more tragic and believable. Yozo however never gets past the pretty-face-stage, and it is amazing how much he reminds us of Tadzio in DEATH IN VENICE when instead he should be reminding us of the Bogarde character.
It is really hard not to compare THE FALLEN ANGEL with Visconti’s film as almost everything looks like a carbon copy of DEATH IN VENICE. The pace, the mood, the sound, the scenes by the water, the subtext of homosexuality. By comparison DEATH IN VENICE plays in an entirely different league, and that undoubtedly leaves THE FALLEN ANGEL with a me-too stigma.
THE FALLEN ANGEL, while featuring some solid moments, never really sheds light on the human condition, but is stuck with the condition of its protagonist that is of very little value for the rest of us. The only real effect THE FALLEN ANGEL has on the audience is that it, consequently, leaves us with a feeling of emptiness once the lights in the theatre are switched on.
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