Yuya Ishii has been the mastermind behind a number of films we cherish particularly here in Asian Movie Pulse, with “The Great Passage” especially featuring frequently in some of our ‘best of’ lists. Recently, however, and particularly since “The Asian Angel”, Ishii seems to have lost some of his edge, which he apparently tries to find once more with “The Moon”, a rather ambitious project.
The movie “The Moon” will be shown at the Busan International Film Festival.
Yoko Dojima gained fame and a younger husband, Shohei, through her novel about the 2011 Earthquake. Though currently she is struggling to create anything new, she agrees to work as a caretaker at a facility for the severely disabled due to financial troubles. The facility is deep in the forest and it becomes clear early on that something is amiss. Yoko initially seems distant, but becomes more focused with the help of a co-worker, also named Yoko. The second Yoko has personal problems and turns to alcohol, while their presence in the house of Shohei and Dojima with their co-worker Sato suggests that the issues at the facility extend beyond just the patients.
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It is evident from the start that Ishii attempted to cover too much ground in “The Moon”. The film features three intriguing storylines involving Yoko and Sato, each with their own personal struggles in their relationships with their husband and family, respectively. The mishandling of patients in the mental institution is also a major theme and is depicted in a gothic and horrifying manner. Additionally, Ishii incorporates shock value through various patients, including one that is particularly grotesque, in an apparent attempt to drive home his message.
Finally, there is Sato, whose unconventional thoughts offer a practical perspective on individuals with disabilities, while also delving into his own destiny. The previously mentioned topics are further enhanced by discussions on literature and art, as well as the handling of the aforementioned calamity and various minor details, creating a complex and at times unrealistic narrative.
However, this does not imply that the film lacks any positive aspects. To begin with, the examination of the main characters is incredibly comprehensive, as Ishii skillfully delves into the multiple layers that define them. This allows the audience to gain a thorough understanding of the characters, even if they are not all likeable. As a result, a sense of empathy is created as they are all portrayed as victims of their own lives, and at times, individuals who could easily find themselves in the same facility. One standout performance comes from Rie Miyazawa as the Maestra, whose subtle discomfort is eloquently conveyed. Her interactions with the other actors are some of the most memorable moments in the movie.
Fumi Nikkaido does a great job as the other Yoko, portraying a character who strives to do good but consistently falls short. Her actions emit a sense of failure. Hayato Isomura also delivers a remarkable performance as Sato, displaying both simplicity and depth with a chilling presence, particularly in his monologues.
The asylum’s presentation is visually impressive, with cinematographer Yoichi Kamakari capturing the patients in a disturbing manner. The intense coloring and use of shadows maintain a strong visual atmosphere, while some added tricks, such as Yoko talking to herself, add a bit more excitement. However, these elements also contribute to the overall feeling of the movie being too much, along with some on-the-nose dialogue.
Ultimately, the film can be deemed a mixed bag, with elements in both the pros and cons categories. However, it ultimately falls short and feels like a missed chance, even with the potential of being two movies instead of one.