Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Harimaya Bridge

I ventured to the UA Stonestown Cinema for the first time in several years recently. I believe the last film I saw at Stonestown was The Aristocrats (2005). On April 23, I went on to see The Harimaya Bridge. The screening was well attended. The film was partially shot in San Francisco and much of the cast and crew were locals. A flyer announced that the filmmakers would take questions after the screening but I skipped out.

The Harimaya Bridge starring Ben Guillory, Saki Takaoka, Misa Shimizu and Danny Glover; (2009) - Official Website

The film was a serviceable melodrama. The plot revolved around Daniel Holder (Guillory), a man coping with the death of his son who was an art teacher in Japan at the time of his death. This poses a specific problem for Holder whose father was killed by the Japanese as a POW in WWII. This fuels a hatred for all things Japanese and causes a rift between father and son. Actually, Holder's "hatred" is portrayed more like disdain and cross-cultural ignorance. Who doesn't know to take your shoes off in a Japanese home?

Holder travels to Japan to retrieve his son's paintings and perhaps arrange an posthumous exhibition. With the help of a selfless and infinitely patient government worker (Shimizu), Holder retraces his son's life in Japan only to discover he has a granddaughter.

I enjoyed the film well enough. The exterior shots in Japan captures the dichotomy between beauty of Japanese architecture and drab utilitarian nature of its housing and commercial districts. I thought the film fell short in its depiction of Holder as one step above a barbarian and simplistic portrayal of the Japanese as largely without fault. There was a scene where Kubo (Takaoka), Holder's daughter-in-law, tells him that her daughter is Japanese. I guffawed at that one. The girl is most certainly not Japanese by citizenship and I have little doubt an insular society like the Japanese would reject and ostracize a half-black, half-Japanese girl.

With that said, the film entertained me with solid performances and its "stranger in a strange land" scenes. Misono, in an over-the-top role as a ditzy secretary in Shimizu's office, caught my attention. Toshiyuki Kitami as Kubo's father made the most of his limited screen time as the unyielding father who is as disappointed in her daughter's marriage as Holder. The pacing of the film felt like a Japanese family drama film but the director is Aaron Woolfolk who is Oakland born and raised. Several of Mami Kobayashi's paintings (which stood in for Holder's son's artwork in the film) were visually appealing.

Another ticky-tack plot problem was the age of Daniel Holder. He says his father was killed in WWII. Holder recounted a trip to SF MOMA with his father when he was 10. Assuming the man died in 1945, Daniel Holder would have to be around 75 years old in the film. Ben Guillory is 61 and looks younger. Shimizu's character says her uncle died in WWII. Shimuzu is 40 years old so her uncle died 25 years before she was born.

Danny Glover co-produced the film and founded an theater company with Guillory. Glover has a few scenes in the film as Guillory's younger brother.

The film only screened one week at the Stonestown. According to the official website, the film will screen on May 20 at the Rialto Cinema Elmwood in Berkeley.

No comments: