Movie Review – The Furthest End Awaits (Japanese Film Festival 2015)

EXPECTATIONS: A very soothing drama along the lines of a Hsiao Hou-Hsien film.

REVIEW: Coffee is incredibly prominent in the world. Like Jerry Seinfeld says in his stand-up routine, coffee is more than just a drink; it’s related to everything from technology, kitchen appliances, computer programs (i.e Java) and there are some types of coffee we have to call Mister. Yes, I said that joke. But there are numerous coffee places to just relax, which I find ironic since coffee is meant to perk people up. So when I started to watch this film, I was afraid that I might fall asleep due to its film-making style (i.e meditative pacing, languid shots, lack of momentum etc.), but when I saw that coffee was a factor in the story, it somehow perked me up and when you see the coffee shop that the character runs, it really is quite a metaphor for the film itself. Warm, inviting and lovely to be around, The Furthest End Awaits is a journey worth exploring.

Hiromi Nagasaku stars as Misaki, who had just heard that her father, who disappeared in a boating accident, is legally declared dead. Willing to be filial and devoted to him, she accepts his debts and his one asset, a boathouse in a small town at a peninsula, where she was born. She moves her coffee shop there, clinging to her hopes to see her father again. At the town, we see Eriko (Nozomi Sasaki), a hardworking single mother of two, older daughter Arisa (Hiyori Sakurada) and younger son Shota (Kaisei Katomori), who is a neighbour of Misaki. She has an alcoholic boyfriend (Masatoshi Nagase) who comes and goes, freeloading off her money and livelihood, particularly her children. When Misaki and Eriko meet for the first time, their interaction is heated and awkward at first, but through time, they gradually form a strong bond that could lead to a friendship.

What I took notice about this film was the fact that this was directed by Taiwanese director, Chang Hsiu-Chuing. Directing her first Japanese film with a full Japanese crew, Chang adopts her skills to the Japanese norm surprisingly well, that recalls the work of Yasujiro Ozu, especially when it shows the workings of family life in the country (i.e Tokyo Story). But Chang also retains a bit of her Taiwanese film heritage in here, as some scenes recall Hsiao Hou-Hsien like scenes that linger on for a long take to elicit a feeling of realism or astounding beauty. There is a scene later in the film when Misaki finds out about her missing father that lingers in a wide shot for a long time, and it is used very effectively as it highlights the covert emotions of Misaki. I also liked that there is no music in the film until the end credits and it makes its emotional moments and revelations feel earned instead of perfunctory or obviously screen-written.

The actors certainly help out and lend a lot of heart to the film. Hiromi Nagasaku, in her past films, usually plays liberated women or daring characters that revolve around sexuality (with some comedic characters) but in The Furthest End Awaits, she is incredibly effective as Misaki. Her character is quite enigmatic through the first hour, only showing hints of paternal love and commitment to her work, but in the final act, her emotions and character development are more prevalent and she conveys it very well. Nozomi Sasaki, known more for her modelling than her acting, is also quite good as Eriko. Although her emotive dramatic chops still need some work, especially after the bond is created between her character and Misaki, Sasaki conveys her character’s unpleasant and frankly, childish behaviour convincingly and her transformation from sisterly-babysitter to fully-fledged mother is believable. Special credit goes to the children, who play their roles that feel genuine and not in the fake precocious fashion that you see in Hollywood films. The scenes with them and Misaki are the most amusing, warm and inviting in the film, as they bond over the process of making coffee. And they also have good dramatic chops when their lives are shown to be less than perfect, especially when they react to their mother’s neglect, that reminds me of a mild version of Hirokazu Koreeda’s Nobody Knows.

But there are some problems that take the film down a notch. First, there’s the boyfriend character played by Masatoshi Nagase. His performance isn’t the problem, but his incredibly stereotypical appearance is. With an eye-patch, his drunk behaviour and his excessive chain-smoking, anyone with a brain stem could see that his character is up to no good. His character is incredibly jarring compared to the rest of the film that it took me out a couple of times. It’s a shame since it creates a black hole compared to the rest of the understated and realistic tone of the film. Also, the running time of the film is too long. With a story like this, particularly one with very little plot, long takes that elicit beauty and mood can only take you so far, and the film needs a more urgent pace to keep the plot going.

Fortunately, the climax and the ending of the film work, as the bond between the characters is very convincing, that you really start to see them as a true family. It is also when the music finally plays in the film and it pulls off the much-needed cathartic feel that makes the ending a winner. The Furthest End Awaits is a great, optimistic, heartwarming film that is as satisfying as a well-brewed cup of coffee.

Quickie Review

PROS

Good understated performances from the cast

Convincing direction that earns the film’s dramatic moments

The film is beautifully realized, with its great cinematography

CONS

Masatoshi Nagase’s character

The running time is too long

SCORE: 8/10

Readers in Australia want to watch the film? Book tickets for it at Japanese Film Festival 2015! Press the logo below for more details!

Cast: Hiromi Nagasaku, Nozomi Sasaki, Hiyori Sakurada, Kaisei Hatomori, Asami Usuda, Masatoshi Nagase, Jun Murakami, Miyoko Asada, Issey Ogata, Tomoworo Taguchi

Director: Chiang Hsiu-chiung

Screenwriter: Nako Kakinoki

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