DVD Review: The Story of Yonosuke

Starring: Kengo Kora, Yuriko Yoshitaka
Director: Shuichi Okita
Rating: 7/10

“Whatever happened to whatsisname?” It a question you find yourself repeatedly asking as you grow older, and it’s also the theme of this gentle, bitter-sweet comedy from the director of The Woodsman and the Rain. Here, the whatsisname is one Yokomichi Yonosuke (the name is apparently giggle-worthily comedic in Japanese, presumably akin to being called Richard Head or Ben Dover), a slow-witted but jolly country bumpkin who comes to Tokyo to be a student in the late ’80s.

In a series of mildly absurd misadventures, he joins a samba club, acts as an unwitting matchmaker to a pair of his fellow students, develops a hopeless crush on a vampish older woman who rinses wealthy businessmen at the hotel where he is a bellhop, and begins a tentative relationship with a flaky rich girl whose nerves have been shattered by her domineering father. At the same time, flash-forwards to these same characters sixteen years later pose the question – where is Yonosuke now?

It’s this bifocal effect that imposes a sense of purpose on what might otherwise seem like an almost random collection of episodes, and that brings Yonosuke’s story into melancholy perspective. Played by Kengo Kora with mugging mannerisms and a collapsing thatch of curly hair, Yonosuke has more than a whiff of other classic movie misfits such as Forrest Gump, Jean Renoir’s Boudu and Jacques Tati’s Monsieur Hulot. Touching the lives of others in unexpectedly profound ways, he remains a bit of a riddle himself, an amiable loner.

But the melancholy is no more than a counterpoint to the general mood, which is full of the joys of spring, the pleasures of friendship and the exciting bustle of student days. This is a charming, easygoing movie, and even at an overlong two hours and forty minutes, it slips along very nicely from one affectionately mocking vignette to the next. It’s perhaps not as memorable as The Foreign Duck, the Native Duck and God in a Coin Locker, with which it shares certain ingredients, but it’s a thoroughly pleasant exercise in ’80s nostalgia, Japanese-style.

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