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Film Review: ‘The
Long Excuse’ | 2016 Masahiro Motoki's first big screen leading role since "Departures"
Maggie Lee, variety.com Sep 21, 2016
Not without its moments of humour, The Long Excuse is a great
piece of storytelling and a thought-provoking exploration of grief and its impact. --James
Whether or not you believe he
truly redeems himself -- I was of two minds until the end -- the film delivers a catharsis that is earned,
not tacked onto an obligatory happy ending. --Mark Schilling (Japan Times)
Masahiro Motoki's first big screen
leading role since "Departures" is startlingly in subtlety and moving power.
In “The Long Excuse,”
Masahiro Motoki — star of the Oscar-winning “Departures” — makes a startling comeback as a novelist
who discovers his coldheartedness upon his wife’s sudden death. Writer-director Miwa Nishikawa’s somber
reflection on the strains of marriage and parenthood is punctuated with beautiful existential undertones.
Given the proliferation of quality Japanese family dramas at home and on the festival circuit,
this little gem with a spiky edge will need extra marketing savvy to find limited arthouse theatrical and
A director noted for her flair for suspense and enthralling portrayal
of characters of dubious morality,Nishikawafirst composed the story as a
novel, then wrote and directed it for the screen. As in her last three films — “Sway,” “Dear Doctor,” and “Dreams for
Sale,” all centered on liars and swindlers — self-
deception is the theme of her fifth work.
Showing a bit of wear and tear after his seven-year hiatus from the big screen as leading man,
Motoki is perfectly poised to play Sachio Kinugasa, a has-been author who clings to his waning fame as a fixture on TV chat shows.
He’s first seen being snappish to his hairstylist wife Natsuko (Eri Fukatsu), as she patiently cuts his hair.
Sachio can hardly wait for her to take off on ski holiday with high school bestie
Yuko before he is making whoopee with his editor (Haru Kuroki).
When news reaches him that a coach has crashed into a lake,
killing both Natsuko and Yuko, he hastily arranges her
cremation near the accident site. At the funeral, he waxes sorrowful in a scripted speech, but is unable
to shed tears on cue for the paparazzi. His obsessive net-surfing for media reports on his bereavement
shows he only cares about his celebrity image. In stark contrast to Sachio’s
strained affectation of grief, Yuko’s husband Yoichi Omiya
(Pistol Takehara) is utterly devastated.
Unable to shake off Yoichi’s one-sided friendliness and embarrassing outpourings of misery, he
awkwardly condescends to socialize with the Omiyas. Sachio offers to babysit his two young tykes,
grade- schooler Shinpei (Kenshin
Fujita) and preschool-aged Akari (Tamaki Shiratori) a few times a week while
Yoichi is on his truck-driving shifts. Whether he volunteers out of boredom or plans
to use them as creative fodder, Nishikawa
keeps Sachio’s motives obscure. And yet,
Sachio clearly takes to the caregiving role, and the tykes brighten up in his
presence. Scenes of simple activities like watching a childish cartoon with Akari, or
picking up Shinpei after he finishes cram school brim with a charmingly offhand joy.
Yet, just when the film seems to settle into heartwarming mode, it turns round for a harsh reality
check. Sachio is jerked out of the escapist comfort his surrogate family provides
when his manager Kinoshita (Sosuke Ikematsu, reeking cynicism) tells him, “Children are a great way for men to indulge themselves. … They make me
forget what an asshole I am.” Likewise, Yuki’s death opens up
cracks that already exist in the Omiya family. For all of Yoichi’s
salt-of-the-earth virtues, he’s also childishly inept while the precocious, sensitive
Shinpei is capable of coldly cutting adults down to size. As it turns out, it doesn’t
take much for dynamics to shift in the protagonists’ ad hoc ties.
According to Nishikawa, she wrote
“The Long Excuse” in contemplation of the
emotional aftermath of the 3.11 earthquake catastrophe — unresolved issues between victims and their
closest kin have been swept aside by the wave of collective mourning. Observing the scramble to form
new liaisons to fill the void of sudden, permanent loss, the helmer reminds that it’s not easy to pick up
the pieces and move on. However, as in Nishikawa’s other films, redemption can be elusive for her protagonists,
however deep their contrition. Her controlled direction shuns any sentimentality, denying audiences a
single flashback to happier times in Sachio and Natsuko’s
marriage, or any catharsis of the husband breaking down to express love or regret.
Instead, the film focuses on the novelist’s battle with his
own ego as he swings back and forth between craving media attention and resenting mass consumption
of his misfortune. But the more he slinks through soirees or works himself into
drunken rants, the more he evinces inconsolable pain. Nevertheless, out
of this wretched mood of existential disquiet emerges a moving coda that embraces life with qualified
Entirely involving audiences in Sachio’s distasteful personality, Motoki gently modulated performance charts his
bumpy journey to self-knowledge. Singer-composer Takehara serves as a down-to-earth counterpart to Motoki’s bourgeois glibness. Functioning as an absence rather than presence, Fukatsu still exerts a
tantalizing impression in one scene, when she appears as a wistful vision, symbolizing elusive bliss.
Set over a year, the four seasons, captured in carefully composed but decidedly not postcard-pretty
cinematography by Koreeda regular Yutaka
Yamazaki, register the child actors’ physical growth and mirror the adults’ spiritual
cycle of rebirth. Hairstylist Muzuki Sakai
devises several different ’dos in line with Sachio’s ups and downs after he vows
never to cut his hair. The sonorous, Baroque-inflected score by Toshihiro Nakanishi and Michiaki
Kato provides a ripe lushness that softens the film’s august tone.
* * *
More about ‘The Long Excuse’
Based on a book by writer – director Miwa Nishikawa, a recently widowed writer whose wife died in
a bus crash comes to terms with his grief, or lack of it, in caring for the children of a working man who
also lost his wife in the same accident.
Reviewed online in Vancouver, Canada, Sept. 12, 2016. (Also in Toronto, Vancouver film festivals.)
Running time: 124 MIN. (Original Title: "Nagai iiwake")
Production: (Japan) An Asmik Ace release of a Bandai Visual Co., Aoi Pro, TV
Tokyo, Asmik Ace, Bungeishunju, TV Osaka presentation of an Aoi Pro production. (International sales:
Elle Driver, Paris; Asmik Ace, Tokyo.) Producers: Asako Nishikawa, Akihiko Yose, Tetsuo Ota, Shuichi
Nagasawa, Kiyoto Matsui, Takashi Iwamura. Executive producers: Kenji Hamada, Ippei Fukuda, Masaro
Toyoshima, Kiyoshi Nishikawa, Hideki Tagami.
Crew: Director, writer: Miwa Nishikawa, based on her novel. Camera (color,
widescreen): Yutaka Yamazaki. Editor: Ryuji Miyajima.
With: Masahiro Motoki, Pistol Takehara, Kenshin Fujita, Tamaki Shiratori, Eri
Fukatsu, Sosuke Ikematsu, Haru Kuroki, Keiko Horiuchi. (Japanese dialogue)