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Film Review: Karakara – A Film By Claude Gagnon

Karakara: An onomatopoeic Japanese word meaning rattle!

Pierre a 61 year old retired professor from Montreal played by Gabriel Arcand attends a Qigong retreat in Okinawa intending to make a solitary exploration of Okinawa and its islands after the retreat is over. He has reached a point in his life where the recent death of his best friend and his own advancing years have triggered an existential crisis.

By chance Pierre connects with Junko an English speaking downtrodden abused housewife played by Youki Kudoh and her friend Akemi played by Megumi Tomita. The excitable Junko, initially acting as a guide in Naha City, takes a shine to Pierre and throws herself at him in a memorable and highly amusing scene in his hotel room. Jolted by his reaction to Junkoh the reluctant Pierre is persuaded by Junkoh to take her with him on his travels at which point the story becomes more about their journeys through their own personal turmoil, the decisions they make about their futures and the transformations that overtake them.

Gabriel Arcand is perfect as the sweet though melancholy Pierre and Youki Kudoh plays Junkoh flawlessly as the excitable confused house wife looking for something more from life than the regular beatings from her husband and abuse from her son.

The film, though bittersweet, never wallows nor is it over sentimental about the life crises that the two main characters are going through. There are nods to the fractious issue of US bases in Okinawa switching between the banalities of the shopping malls North American culture imposed on the islanders as a result and the serious, with Toshiko Taira a Japanese Living National Treasure of ‘bashōfu’ weaving appearing as herself when Pierre visits the bashōfu weaving studio in Kijoka in the north of Okinawa.

On the whole the characters are wonderfully realised. Set in and amongst the islands of Okinawa it is beautifully filmed with a terrific upbeat soundtrack.

Karakara is an onomatopoeic Japanese word meaning rattle, though  contextually in this film by Claude Gagnon it is the Okinawan sake  pouring pot by the same name which, containing small beads, rattles when the pot is empty. Introduced fairly early on in the film as the story  progresses this becomes more evident as a metaphor for the lives of this unlikely couple; rattling when empty, crying out to be filled again.

Though filmed in Okinawa this is essentially a French Canadian film and it is both entertaining and thought provoking. It has that ‘je ne se quois’ about it that comes across in some of the modern more avant garde French styled films. Trilingual, it is in English, Japanese and French with subtitles.

Karakara was screened at the Quebec Cinema Showcase which took place at the Québec Government Office in London on 2-4 November 2012.

Author profile:

Trevor Skingle was born and lives in London where he works in the field of Humanitarian Disaster Relief. He is a Japanophile and his hobbies are Kabuki, painting and drawing and learning Japanese.

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