Asako 1&2 is a beautifully observed, heart breaking romantic drama. The majority of the film is dedicated to tender moments of natural interaction. The characters are rich and interesting, interacting with each other in unexpected and endearing ways. Characters court each other very carefully. The settings of Osaka and Tokyo are vividly captured and are an energetic backdrop for the action.
There is then an extraordinary moment at the close of the second act which disrupts everything that has come before. It’s a deeply affecting act of cruelty which changes the dynamic between the characters and leads to a much more melancholy rumination on the nature of love, lust and trust. To some this moment may seem inexplicable, but there’s something authentic about it, even if that authenticity only stems from very real anxieties. Such a powerful moment is bound to be divisive.
In spite of this, it’s a very funny film, and somewhat good-natured. Characters awkwardly court each other and express themselves poorly. Even in it’s darkest moments there is time for a comical reaction shot. This aspect is understated and unobtrusive.
The film features excellent performances throughout. Erika Karata is exactly right as the sweet yet mysterious Asako. There’s something missing from her for most the film, which comes alive at the climactic moment. She proves to be very versatile. Masahiro Higashide is marvelous in his duel roles. As Bakku is charismatic but aloof and as Ryohei Secondary characters such as Maya (Rio Yamashita) and Okazaki (Daichi Watanabe) are very charming and funny.
Asako is a very funny romantic drama with some hard edges. Whilst it’s more fantastical twists may be difficult for some viewers, it’s a considered and deeply moving portrayal of the compromises of love.
Asako 1&2 will have it’s UK Premier at The London Film Festival on the 10th of October at the Institute of Contemporary Arts Cinema.