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Asako I & II: A journey into humanity

By Deepesh Singh, November 19 2019 —

Asako I & II is an incomplete movie about incomplete love. It follows a girl named Asako on her journey starting and ending in the city of Osaka, with a half-decade stay in Tokyo. In the opening minutes of the movie, she falls in love with Baku – an unconventional stranger for a traditional, tight-lipped girl like her – and kisses him accompanied by the noise of bursting crackers in the background. Their relationship, however, is only as good as the loud bangs of crackers — sudden and overwhelming, but short-lived — Baku disappears from her life and she, tired of waiting for him to fulfill his promise of always coming back to her, moves to Tokyo two-years later. 

The plot diverges from the usual romcoms when she meets Baku’s double Ryohei in his office, a Japanese sake company next to her coffee shop in Tokyo. She initially confuses him with Baku but starts avoiding him when she later realises her mistake. Ryohei, puzzled by her behaviour, confronts her and eventually, reveals his love for her. They end up in a happy relationship that lasts for five years until the return of Baku in the story. He had become a successful model by then and Ryohei deciphers the beginning of his relationship when he gets to know of Baku’s fame. 

One day, Baku unexpectedly interrupts Asako and Ryohei during a dinner with friends and asks Asako to come back with him. Asako, as if taken over by her past love, impulsively gets in the car with Baku and drives away, disregarding Ryohei’s cries. Later during their overnight journey, Asako has a change of heart and harks back to Ryohei. After much struggle, she convinces him to let her stay with him. Their new home nonetheless has an aroma of broken trust, which Ryohei says will stay for a long time. 

The movie is much more than an unconventional romcom. It is also a humble enquiry into the relativity of righteousness, idea of a revenant, accumulation of emotions and feelings in the subconscious, and today’s hyperconnected age. Ryũsuke Hamaguchi, director of the movie, places complete faith in his actors to portray these ideas, rarely but conspicuously seeking the support of sound and light to create an outdoor atmosphere reflecting the emotional undercurrents. Almost all frames ubiquitously carry the main characters, with low tones in the background. The quiet, tranquil aspect of Japan’s settings and people, dominates its bright and candid nature, adhering to the notions explored in the movie. 

The characters goodness is shown in a subtle manner in fleeting and sparse frames, by them bowing down to greet and apologise to strangers, giving a relaxing massage to the other after a long drive, offering help to unknown people in the aftermath of an earthquake, loving people for their virtues and disregarding their blemishes, searching for a missing cat in heavy rain and realising that one is being selfish in putting her grief above someone else’s. These transient and spontaneous moments in the movie inform us of people’s innate humanity and tip us to not judge the goodness of their lives by their isolated dreadful actions. Asako’s love for Ryohei falls short of the Shakespearean standard of love, altering with the state of affairs, but this apparently falls short of fabricated standards in what the movie depicts best. 

Asako I & II screened as part of this season’s Calgary Cinematheque schedule. For more information on future Calgary Cinematheque screenings, visit their website.

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