Home > Film, Reviews > Film Review: Sawako Decides – A Film By Yuya Ishii

Film Review: Sawako Decides – A Film By Yuya Ishii

A film about being ordinary and toughing it out!

When a film opens with a scene involving colonic irrigation, you know you’re in for something a little different!

Sawako (Hikari Mitsushima) lives an ordinary existence and feels she is “nothing special”.  She’s been living in Tokyo for five years and is working in her fifth job with her fifth boyfriend, Kenichi (Masashi Endo), a divorcee with a young daughter, Kayoko (Kira Aihara).  Sawako doesn’t value herself very highly, and  anytime a bad situation occurs she uncomplainingly declares, “It can’t be helped!”

The highlight of Sawako’s day is downing a few cans of beer or watching her knitting-loving boyfriend drop a stitch.  It’s obvious that she is only with Kenichi at  this stage because she feels she can’t, or rather doesn’t deserve, anyone better.

(Courtesy of Third Window Films)

One day, Sawako gets a call from her uncle Nobuo (Ryo Iwamatsu) telling her that her father, Tadeo (Kotaro Shiga), is ill in hospital and that she should return to her hometown in the country to take care of the flagging family clam processing business, since she is heir to the company.  At first, Sawako refuses to return but Kenichi, who is desperate to marry her and is now out of work, persuades her to do otherwise and insists he and Kayoko go with her.

(Courtesy of Third Window Films)

As Sawako takes control of the business, she is met with much animosity from the elderly female workforce whom has nothing but contempt for their new boss, seeing her as a runaway who deserted her father and his business five years previous. But once Sawako puts the business back on track, the workers start to appreciate her a little more.  However, Sawako’s return home forces her to confront personal demons from her past.

(Courtesy of Third Window Films)

Mitsushima (Love Exposure, Death Note) gives a very convincing performance as the self-doubting “loser”; her skills as an actress are gaining her much critical acclaim and her portrayal of Sawako won her a Best Actress Award at the Fantasia International Film Festival – Sawako Decides winning the Best Film Award.  It’s easy to warm to all the characters in this film; even the sexually active female clam workers, whom at first appear discourteous, are very likable.

(Courtesy of Third Window Films)

Sawako Decides is a comedic drama with much of its humour coming from the dialogue, such as this line spoken by Kayoko at a zoo: “Do the armpits of a Gorilla smell?” And when Sawako’s uncle crudely says to Kenichi in reference to Sawako, “Slip her a bit, and get her knocked-up”.  The humour doesn’t warrant belly laughs though, which is just as well because over-the-top humour would diminish the intelligence of the film.  In fact, the sensitivity of the humour gives the film a sense of realism; someone else’s misfortune can, at times, cause us to chuckle, even, or especially, when the misfortune is degrading to the other person.

(Courtesy of Third Window Films)

Some of the social issues raised by director and screenwriter Yuya Ishii could go unappreciated by non-Japanese; the impulsive abandonment of Kayoko by her father who temporarily runs off with Sawako’s friend Tomomi is a case in point.  Actually the bonding between Sawako and Kayoko is done very subtly; both are motherless and craving for motherly-love.  Perhaps by being an unintended substitute mother for Kayoko, Sawako’s own needs are in some way satisfied – by giving love, we receive love.  The undertones of the film are very endearing as well and the overall message speaks to us all: By not being special, we can actually be someone – ourselves.

(Courtesy of Third Window Films)

The basic narrative can at first be off-putting:  A young woman lives a dull life in the city with her dreary boyfriend and returns to her hometown to take over the failing family fresh water clam business.  But don’t be fooled – Sawako Decides is a marvellous, quirky comedy drama with lots of charm whose message is, no matter how ordinary we may be, we can always do our best.

(Courtesy of Third Window Films)

UK theatrical release date:  8
July 2011

Opening at ICA & selected regional sites.


Related posts:

DVD Review:  Cold Fish

Categories: Film, Reviews

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