Fantastic Fest 2010 Review: GOLDEN SLUMBER
Writer: Kotaro Isaka
Cast: Yuko Takeuchi, Masato Sakai
"Once there was a way to get back home." - "Golden Slumbers," The Beatles
The third collaboration between novelist Kotaro Isaka and director Yosihiro Nakamura is, on the surface, a conspiracy thriller. Like their previous work (THE FOREIGN DUCK, THE NATIVE DUCK AND GOD; FISH STORY) it plays with genre conventions to dig deep into the characters woven through its plot to deliver a heartwarming message. That is not to say, though, that GOLDEN SLUMBER is a sappy film. It earns the audience's affection through an engaging plot, tight character work, and a host of wonderful performances.
Aoyagi (Masato Sakai) leaves the comfort of home and travels to the city of Sendai for a fishing trip with an old college friend, Morita. After reminiscing and bonding in Morita's car, Aoyagi finds himself waking up from a deep sleep. He has been drugged. Morita is more than forthcoming with the reason for the deceit - he has been forced to frame his friend as an Oswald type patsy to be implicated in the death of the Prime Minister. It is very shortly after this confession that the Prime Minister's car explodes and Morita's does similar, though not before he encourages Aoyagi to run.
Trapped in Sendai, a city in which he has a bit of a past, Aoyagi begins to realize the magnitude and intricacy of the plot against him. He discovers a young woman who he met several weeks before was actually part of the plan, there's video of him playing with an RC helicopter (the device used to deliver the bomb to the Prime Minister's car), and it would appear he is in surveillance footage showing him flying the helicopter at the time of the assassination. He has no choice but to look for old (and new) friends to help him prove his innocence. Some of these people he can trust (an old flame), some he cannot (an old friend), and others (including a young serial killer) surprise Aoyagi with their unexplained willingness to help him in his situation.
GOLDEN SLUMBER is expertly constructed, the details of Aoyagi and his cohorts' pasts slowly unraveled via flashbacks and repetition of key scenes from different perspectives. This is not solely a stylistic choice, though, as the emotional weight of certain events is heightened by the understanding of present events first. As Aoyagi makes his way across Sendai, avoiding the police at every turn, the key relationship on which he unexpectedly reflects is the one he had in college with Higuchi (Yuko Takeuchi) - a woman now married. She joins a small group of people (led by an old cop) working across Sendai to aid in Aoyagi's escape in clever and surprising ways.
Everything in the film works well. The acting is uniformly solid; Sakai carries the film with his careful balance of profound confusion and relentless determination. As Higuchi, Takeuchi beautifully conveys her deepening understanding of the relationship she once had with Aoyagi without ever giving the impression that she bears any ill will towards her husband and child. She's a loving wife and mother who must come to grips with the significance of past love. Nakamura's direction keeps the long runtime from bogging the film down, staging key sequences with necessary suspense. While it never becomes an action film, there's plenty of tense moments throughout. The Beatles song "Golden Slumbers" is repeated several times through the film (sadly, almost guaranteeing this film will never see U.S. distribution) and while not as key to the plot as the fake punk song in FISH STORY, it is truly the heart and soul of the film.
Consistently a pleasure to watch, GOLDEN SLUMBER does not rely on standard thriller elements (the film is unconcerned with any details regarding the conspirators), instead drawing on the characters to carry the film through thrills, comedy, and heartwarming drama to its conclusion. There are plenty of surprises to be found in how Aoyagi and Higuchi reconcile residual emotions and how other supporting characters surprise themselves by showing their true nature to be far more compassionate and clever than even they had realized. At the beginning of GOLDEN SLUMBER, our main character leaves his current home to return to a place he once called home. Along the way, as anyone could probably guess, he discovers that home is not necessarily a physical place. Thankfully for the audience, we are invited to take this journey with Aoyagi and in the process are enlivened and enlightened. It is cinema that speaks directly to the soul.