|The Yellow Handkerchief © 1977/2010 Shochiku Co., Ltd.|
To commemorate the death of the legendary Japanese actor Ken Takakura a year ago, Japan Society has chosen this cherished classic from award-winning director Yoji Yamada as the Monthly Classic film for November. It is based on a story about a man's insecure homecoming by Pete Hamill, the same story that inspired the 1973 hit song "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" by the group Tony Orlando and Dawn. Thus it was also responsible for the families of many military personnel returning during the Vietnam War period to tie yellow ribbons outside their homes to show that they were eager for their loved ones safe return. Several years ago it was made into another film -- also called The Yellow Handkerchief (2008)-- directed by Udayan Prasad and starring William Hurt, Maria Bello and Kristen Stewart.
Yamada's version begins with Kinya Hanada (Tetsuya Takeda) quitting his job and taking his prized possession -- a red Mazda hatchback -- to Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan's main islands. There he hooks up with -- and tries to put the moves on -- Akemi Ogawa (Kaori Momoi), a young woman whose job is serving lunches on trains and who has come to the island to get away from the memory of the boyfriend who cheated on her.
Perhaps twenty minutes or more into the film, the pair meets Takakura's character Yûsaku Shima, who has just been released from prison after serving several years for a serious crime. Shima is older and wiser than the other two; he is also rather sad and wistful. In a series of flashbacks, and later in an extended expository scene, we learn his back story and come to understand why he is conflicted about being driven back to the town of Yubari where he used to live and work and where someone he once loved may or may not still be there.
There's really not any doubt about how the film will end, but that doesn't keep it from being incredibly effective. Touching and sweetly comic, the film swept the first Japan Academy Prize ceremony with wins in nearly every category. Even the hard-hearted should come to Friday evening's screening prepared with tissues or a handkerchief of their own. Preferably a yellow one.
AsianCineFest Rating: 3 out of 4 stars
Part of Monthly Classics, year-round screenings of beloved classics, hidden gems and recent discoveries of Japanese cinema on the first Friday of every month.