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Film Review: Tokyo Newcomer

2012-05-22 09:49:35        Chinese Films

A still shot from "Tokyo Newcomer."[Photo: filmbiz.asia]

China/Japan

Contemporary drama

2012, colour, 16:9, 99 mins

Directed by Jiang Qinmin

Light drama of a Chinese go player in Japan packs a lot into a little. Asian events, plus niche TV.

Story

Tokyo, the present day, spring. Jiliu (Qin Hao), a talented amateur go player, has recently arrived from China in Japan, where his name translates as Yoshiryu. One day in the street he bumps into an old vegetable-seller from Chiba, Mrs. Igarashi (Baisho Chieko), who's also a go devotee. She takes a liking to him and helps him get a job as a cleaner at a capsule hotel. Jiliu gets to know her grandson, Shoichi (Nakaizumi Hideo), whose petty criminal lifestyle she disapproves of. One night, Shoichi takes refuge in Jiliu's flat after being wounded defending his girlfriend Nanako (Janine Chang), a Chinese hairdresser from Taiwan, against some gangsters, one of whom he's accidentally killed. Mrs. Igarashi sends some money to Shoichi via Jiliu, who takes care of Shoichi with the help of Naito Mika (Tian Yuan), the capsule hotel's receptionist who likes him. Nanako tells Jiliu she doesn't want to see Shoichi any more and that Shoichi should leave the country for his own safety. Jiliu manages to re-unite Shoichi with his grandmother and then enrols in the trials for the annual amateur Kanto Area Go Tournament. However, his progress runs into an unforeseen hitch.

Review

Written and directed by a Mainland Chinese, but utterly Japanese in look and feel, "Tokyo Newcomer" is an engaging light drama centred on a young Chinese guy's passion for the board game of go and his assimilation into the country which has made the (Chinese-invented) game into a national expression of its mindset. Though there's a fair amount of playing in the movie, it's not necessary to understand the game, which is portrayed as just another example of Japanese self-discipline that the central character, Jiliu, admires β€” and which is made light fun of in early scenes. As a "go movie", Newcomer has none of the dry asceticism of, say, Tian Zhuangzhuang's beautifully shot but emotionally remote "The Go Master" (2006).

Hunan-born Jiang Qinmin is one of a very small number of Mainland filmmakers (including Zhang Jiabei, known for "Cherries" (2007) and "Dreaming Wall" (2009)) who's studied in Japan, where his early movie, rural love drama "Sky Lovers" (2002), was a success. It's his third movie, after "The Sunflower Disaster" (2000) and "Pure Love" (2007), to feature Japanese content, though he's also capable of making eveything from Chinese TV dramas to a smooth contemporary rom-com like the highly enjoyable "My Airhostess Roommate" (2009). Though hardly commercial fare, Newcomer is his most mature and tightly controlled film to date, naturally assuming a Japanese look and identity, and packing a whole universe of feeling into a simple story via a series of small, affecting scenes.

As Jiliu, Qin Hao gives a more likable and accessible performance than in previous movies like "Spring Fever" (2009) and "Chongqing Blues" (2010), though his character is thinly backgrounded. Dominating the film, not surprisingly, is 71-year-old Japanese actress-singer Baisho Chieko β€” a favourite of director Yamada Yoji β€” as the quietly independent, widowed vegetable-seller who takes Jiliu under her wing and teaches him the real meaning of go from a Japanese perspective. It's a performance that grows in stature and depth as the movie progresses to a warm and dignified end.

Playing her wayward grandson, Nakaizumi Hideo ("Scout Man" (2000), the conflicted Japanese soldier in "City of Life and Death" (2008)) becomes more sympathetic as the story unfolds, while two Chinese actresses, Taiwan's Janine Chang ("Zoom Hunting" (2010)) and Mainlander Tian Yuan ("Luxury Car" (2006)), are okay in sketchily drawn supporting roles. The clean and immaculate camerawork by d.p. Kugimiya Shinji is miles from his more generic work like "Tears of Kitty" (2007) and vampire movie "Higanjima" (2009), while the busy, fret-heavy score by Japanese-born Wong Wing-tsan and Wong Mineshi  is an offbeat, atmospheric delight.

Source: Film Business Asia/ Derek Elley

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