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Review: Asako I & II

Ventured out to Metrograph for a screening of Asako I & II, an odd little Japanese film with a title implying that it contains its own sequel—which honestly isn’t very far from the truth. Cinema traditionally follows a basic three-act structure, and while it’s certainly possible to bend that particular rule, director Ryusuke Hamaguchi stretches his story across eight or nine acts, which is a tad… excessive (not to mention exhausting).

It starts out promisingly enough: our shy, reserved heroine falls head-over-heels in love with Baku, who is adventurous, free-spirited, impulsive—basically the male equivalent of the “manic pixie dream girl.” One day, however, he abruptly vanishes, leaving her distraught. Years later, still reeling from the trauma, she happens to encounter his doppelgänger, a responsible, hardworking salaryman named Ryohei. Although she initially tries to deny her emotions, their friendship eventually blossoms into a stable, healthy romance. But just as her future is beginning to look bright, her enigmatic ex suddenly returns, putting her loyalty to the test.

Usually, such a dramatic development would signal the arrival of the climax; unfortunately, Asako I & II is too defiantly unconventional to stop there, and its labyrinthine plot continues to twist in so many unexpected directions that I frequently experienced whiplash. I don’t even know how to classify it in terms of its genre; the narrative superficially resembles a typical rom-com, but features so many overtly dark elements (including ALS, premature birth, and the 2011 Tohoku earthquake) that the tone ends up feeling muddled and confused. Like its protagonist, the movie suffers from a major identity crisis; I enjoyed parts of it, but they never really added up to an effective whole.

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