Hypnotically mundane, charming and relaxed - And boy is it long!
This film, by veteran director Tasaka Tomotaka, is a story about young girl named Takako (Kitahara Mie). Takako arrives at the home of a rich family to be the home-school tutor for Kumiko (Ashikawa Izumi), a girl slightly younger than her. Kumiko has two brothers, the well-mannered Yukichi (Okada Yuji) and the moody Shinji (Ishihara Yujiro), both of whom Takako falls in love with, albeit not simultaneously.
That's the story of this film. Nothing out of the usual, right?
Well, what if I told you that in the next 15 years, this movie got remade twice, and also made into a television series? Still nothing unusual, the Japanese are known for remaking their own stuff, time and time again.
But when we address the fact, that this movie is THREE AND A HALF HOURS LONG, we can no longer view it as a normal film. A Slope in the Sun is a weird one. Weird, because the contents of the film do not correlate with the duration in any way. This film is not ambitious. This is not a film for critics. This is a crowd-pleaser, a very pleasant one, but surreal in its measurements. Tasaka's film is a product of a planet, where the length of a film is drawn out of a hat regardless of the subject. It's the kind of film Erich von Stroheim would have loved to make, but no studio in their right minds would let him. Maybe Stroheim should have tried his luck at Nikkatsu...
I know I'm highlighting this element of the film. But a fact that makes it funnier is that this film only has eight characters. There's Takako, one. The family she serves, so five people. And then there's Takako's landlady, and her son, who moonlights as a bar singer. Eight people. Oh, and there's a dog too. Named Baron. Gave me many happy moments. The fact that the number of characters is so limited makes the side-plots often very amusing, since the world of this film is so very small. And yet it just goes on.
The storylines in this film are quite nice. Each character has something to do. But Tasaka really could have done this film in two hours, or even in 90 minutes. The director finds magnificent ways to kill time all throughout the film. Near the beginning, there is a ten minute sequence where Shinji drinks whisky with his father and tells him that he knows that he is illegitimate. It's a good enough scene, but afterwards the other family members return home, and Shinji quickly runs upstairs, because he is under-aged. The next scene is the mother asking the father, whether he was just drinking whisky with Shinji, and this goes on for two minutes. Then we have a scene upstairs, when Kumiko asks Shinji, if he was just drinking whisky with the father, and Shinji details the entire conversation we just saw!
The cabaret singer Johnny also sings the same song ("7 o'clock") twice, without the director cutting it. This movie has problems unlike almost any other, simply because usually using film costs money. You can't make something that lasts forever without a reason to do so!
People who criticize the works of, say, Ozu, often complain that Ozu's films are slow. But they are in fact dense. Every scene has a point. A Slope in the Sun is slow. And to be honest. It is the pace, that sucked me in. It is fascinating. It is without explanation. This is a mundane film with clean characters. It's not that funny. It's not that dramatic. Nothing much happens. And the film doesn't try to give a depiction of everyday life in the style of Ozu or Naruse. But the film keeps being.
I don't know if this film would be better, were it 90 minutes. But it would definitely be less interesting.
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