|Terako (Sakura Ando) and Mr. Iwanaga (Arata Iura)
Asleep, as befits its title, is a quiet, gentle and slow-paced film about Terako, a young woman played by twenty-nine year old actress Sakura Ando. She is having an affair with a somewhat older married man named Mr. Iwanaga. Provided for by him, Terako has little to do with her time but to wait for his calls and increasingly turns to sleep as a means to pass time until their next rendezvous. When the two get together in town, their meetings 'were like the shadow of a dream," as she puts it in one of the film's numerous voice-over narrations.
Terako did have one close friend, a roommate from college named Shiori (actress Mitsuki Tanimura), but she moved out and took a peculiar job as a companion to various customers -- men, women, even foreigners -- who want or need someone to sleep besides them in bed, no sex acts involved. Unfortunately Shiro committed suicide and is now available to Terako only in memories and in dreams.
|Shiori (Mitsuki Tanimura, left) and Terako (Sakura Ando) in Shiori's canopied bed
Based on a short story from a 1989 compilation of the same name by author Banana Yoshimoto (Kitchen, N.P.), Asleep draws the viewer into Terako's downward spiral of increased lassitude. The dramatic tension of the film derives from this engrossing descent into deeper and longer periods of lethargy contrasted with the audience's identification with Terako and their desire for her to somehow "pull out of it." Not until the film's final moments is there an indication of which way things will probably go for Terako.
Director Wakagi, who co-authored the screenplay, has crafted a compelling piece of psychological cinema. There's no real back-story aside from the fact that Terako and Shiori were once friends and shared an apartment. Similarly, aside from the fact that they met in winter, there's no information about how Terako and Mr. Iwanga -- as she always refers to him, at least in the English subtitles -- happened to come together. We merely meet them in mid-relationship, a point that is essentially a state of romantic stasis, thereby causing Terako's problem with spending too much time asleep. But her story is fascinating one and a showcase for Ms. Ando's considerable talents as an actress.
AsianCineFest Rating: 3 out of 4 stars, recommended
Asleep is the first of two Centerpiece Presentations that will be playing at Japan Society NY's JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film on Thursday, July 16th. The second film is 100 Yen Love, also stars Sakura Ando, who will be present for introductions and Q&As for both films. Miss Ando is this year's recipient of the festival's CUT ABOVE Award for Outstanding Performance in Film.