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The year is 1987 and Japan is just reaching the peak of its economic success. Eighteen-year old Yonosuke Yokomichi arrives in Tokyo from Nagasaki. Ordinary in every way possible, he lives in a suburb far from the excitement of the big city and commutes to a university in the center of Tokyo. During his first days at school, Yonosuke befriends Ippei Kuramochi and Yui Akutsu. Soon after, he joins the Samba club and spends his leisure time learning to dance. In the Samba club, Yonosuke meets Kato, who turns out to be gay. Together, they take a driving class where Yoko, a rich girl, shows interest in Yonosuke. But he hardly notices her advances; he is infatuated with party girl Chiharu, an older woman he met by chance. Parallel to the depiction of this year of ordinary college life, the characters are shown sixteen years later in the year 2003. However, missing from these scenes is Yonosuke, who is said to have become a cameraman after college. After learning of Yonosuke's death, Yoko ...Written by
Based on the novel "Yokomichi Yonosuke" by Shuichi Yoshida, this is a coming out of age story, as much as a story for reminiscing of the past. In this case, it was the 80's Japan, where economy was still booming, and more importantly, the hope of "anything is possible" was still happening. The film starts with a static long take shot near the exit of a Tokyo metro station. We saw our protagonist Yonosuke (played very lively by Kengo Kora), a colleague freshman from the port city of Nagasaki arriving to start his new life at a rather unfashionable university. With a slightly awkward physical look but an even more awkward/laughable name (Yonosuke was the name of a main character in a Japanese classic erotic novel, "The Life of an Amorous Man"), Yonosuke had become fascinated by the surroundings of the city and began his encounter to different people. This include Ippei Kuramochi (Sosuke Ikematsu), a classmate who was kind but with a self centered personality, a cute looking Yui Akutsu (Aki Asakura) who was first slightly attracted by Yonosuke's charm before developing a long term relationship with Kuramochi. This is also the point where the narrative of the film becomes more interesting. We realize that we are no longer watching Yonosuke's encounters as they unfolded. Rather, they were actually the memories of people that he met. Yonosuke went on to have further encounter with Yusuke Kato (Gou Ayano) who was a cool looking guy but turned out to be homosexual; Chiharu Katase (Ayumi Ito), who had worked as a high class prostitute but later becoming a popular DJ. And finally, Yonosuke met his love in Tokyo, a very pretty but timid Shoko Yosano (Yuriko Yoshitaka) coming from a very rich but strict family.
The joyfulness and the cheerfulness in which Yonosuke brought to different characters had become the backbone of the story and the reasons for the reminiscing of their past. In each of the flashback (in the style that can be compared with the narrative form from "Citizen Kane"), the audience began to see both young and more mature version of each of the characters. It adds depth in understanding how their lives are being subtly affected, if not transformed by the presence of Yonosuke. We see how Kuramochi and Yui had the courage to take on the challenge of being teenage parents (after encouragement from Yonosuke, who had a brief encounter with a child of illegal immigrants). How Kato learned to accept his own sexually and was able to open up about it while, the romantic encounter between Yonosuke and Yosano had transformed her into a much more independent person. The flashback was being arranged in such a way that it followed Yonsuke's first and second year of colleague in a chronicle manner. It then serves very well as a study of what exactly Yonosuke was as a person. Indeed, it was his ordinariness yet charming character, which reminded us quite often; this is all it takes to bring out one's smile and happiness from within.
At 160 minutes, the film at times could feel loose with the stories on some of the characters, esp. with Shoko, being dragged over for a tag too long. There were also too many more minor characters which could divert the audiences' attention, such as Yonsouke's neighbors at his Tokyo apartment, as well as his family and friends back in Nagasaki. On the other hand, the relentless effort of recreating the feeling of 80's can be seen throughout the film. From the fashions the characters wore, to the big poster on the street (most notably was the large Canon EOS camera poster behind Yonosuke during his first encounter with Shoko, which could later serve as reminder that it was photography which brought them back at the end, long after Yonosuke was gone). The Samba dance club, which at first seems very laughable but actually it was a clear reminder that once Japan has a close (economic) relationship with Brazil.
Directed by Shuichi Okita, whose previous works include "Nankyoku Ryorinin" (The Chef of South Polar), and "Kitsutsuki to Ame" (The Woodsman and the Rain), he usually focuses on socially awkward/marginal person and their way of living in the contemporary society. "The Story of Yonosuke" is no exception and certainly with a more serious subtext. Despite numerous comical sub-plots, the film is far from a sugar-coated story. While Yonosuke's cheerful and innocent personality has brought back each of the characters' memories with their past, but it also helps to bring the memories of the audiences who lived in the 80's era. It was a time where there were still rooms for youth, purity, innocence and hope for better thing to come. Sadly, just as what happened in the following decade in Japan, the film also reminds us the harsh reality. As an off-scene flash forward scene which happened toward the two third of the film, we realized that the departure of Yonosuke serves a somber reminder of how an era has truly been gone for good.
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