A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 175 – White on Rice

White on Rice – August 22nd, 2010

This movie went through a bunch of film festivals a little while back, and when it did a friend of ours from high school was talking about it on Facebook. Turns out he’s got a producing credit, which is pretty cool. We were curious about it and asked him when we could get a hold of it on DVD so we could add it to the collection and to this project and he said he’d send us a copy. So this marks the first time we get to do that disclaimery thing and say that one of the producers gave us a DVD copy of the movie. A pretty cool milestone and a pretty cool movie.

I’ll warn up front, there’s a good deal of awkward and embarrassment-based comedy in this movie. It was never so bad that I felt like I had to leave the room, but it’s in there. Mostly because the main character is such a walking disaster. A cheerful walking disaster, but a walking disaster nonetheless. That’s the point. That’s what the movie’s about. It’s about 40 year old Jimmy and his life and his family and how incredibly badly he messes everything up even when he’s trying to do nice things. He means well, but his goof-ups are impressive. The movie could just have been a series of those goof-ups, each one out-doing the last. And to an extent, it is. But that’s really just the framework for what is a fun and oddly endearing movie.

You see, Jimmy lives with his sister and her husband and son. He had a bit of a hard time after his wife left him (she cooked him three months’ worth of meals so he wouldn’t starve – Jimmy’s that sort of guy), so he’s been living with them, sharing a bedroom with ten year old Bob. Jimmy’s really much like a kid himself. He’s all eagerness and misunderstandings and tremendous effort pushed in the wrong direction. His sister, Aiko, is incredibly understanding of Jimmy’s foibles. Her husband, Tak? Not so much. Bob doesn’t seem to care one way or the other. He’s got more important things to worry about than Jimmy.

The movie begins with Tak’s niece, Ramona, coming to stay with the family for a little bit and Jimmy latching onto the idea that Ramona will be the new love of his life. You can imagine how well that goes. I’d go so far as to say that Ramona having a boyfriend already is the least of the obstacles in Jimmy’s way. But really, the movie begins with a clip from a samurai movie Jimmy was an extra in when he was younger, shown while Jimmy, Aiko and Tak watch (Jimmy makes Bob leave the room). It’s a cute little moment and some fun foreshadowing for the eventual climax of the film. To be honest, I’d totally watch Ambush at Blood-Trail Gate if it really existed. I’d probably laugh just like Aiko and Jimmy do. Tak isn’t so amused, and that pretty much sets the stage for the rest of the movie.

A lot of the things Jimmy does make me wince. His obsession with Ramona is so transparently one-sided and he’s the only one who doesn’t see it. He hates his job and pays no attention to it, he’s got no money, no skills, no life. All he has is his love of dinosaurs and the top bunk of his nephew’s bed. It’s kind of sad. Except he’s relentlessly optimistic about it all. He’s going to find the girl of his dreams and a great job and everything’s going to be awesome! Hiroshi Watanabe, as Jimmy, really does a fantastic job of taking a hang-dog look and turning it right around into a hopeful grin and making you want that hopeful grin to be right this time. It’s tough to like Jimmy. I found myself sympathizing with Tak a lot, though I also sympathized with Aiko. Jimmy’s thoroughly infuriating. All the more so because he seems so clueless about how badly he messes things up and gets things wrong. But then he’s such a genuinely nice guy.

I don’t think I need to explain the details of how Jimmy crashes and burns with Ramona. This isn’t so much a love story as a coming of age story, except the age is 40. It’s almost a midlife crisis story, except you never get the impression that this is a new phase for Jimmy. It’s more that he’s never quite found his purchase in life. He’s never figured out what he wants to do, let alone how to do it. And yet it’s also not a triumphant story of a man learning how to cope after his wife leaves him. Jimmy remains a disaster to the end.

But it’s also the story of a family needing a little bit of a bump to get back on track. In between all of Jimmy’s messes is the story of Aiko, Tak and Bob, who seem to all be off in their own worlds. Aiko and Tak are both working a lot, and so is Bob, who’s got his own deal going on. I knew a kid who was just like Bob once. He used to come to my book club at work. It’s almost eerie. If I hadn’t been certain that the kid I knew is high school age by now, I’d have been tempted to check the credits. Let me just say, Justin Kwong does a great job with the role. He’s the straight man to a lot of Jimmy’s lines and does it excellently. Jimmy’s presence in the household doesn’t really help things between Bob and his parents, but it does make for a fun dynamic and a great conversation between Aiko and Tak where whether they’re talking about Jimmy or Bob isn’t quite clear. The two stories could have felt uneven or disconnected, but they don’t. They fit just fine and end up complimenting each other.

Towards the middle I felt like things dragged a little bit. I’m not sure if I can pinpoint what it was, but before one plot point that takes place on Halloween, it got a wee bit unfocused to me. Fortunately, once the Halloween crisis happens, things pick back up and we’re moving right along again. There are a couple of moments that are scenes from Jimmy’s imagination that I’m not sure if I liked or not. It happens maybe twice. Not enough to establish it as a stylistic choice but enough that it made me wonder if it would be incorporated more. But aside from those and the bit of slowness, the movie flows very well. The cast is great and there were a few laugh out loud moments for me. Given that most of these “What am I doing with my life?” type movies are either about 20-somethings or about folks in their 50s who are definitely adults in all senses of the term, this is certainly unique. And you might not really like Jimmy at the end, but I couldn’t help but hope he landed on his feet. With no broken legs.

Just to make it clear, we were given a copy of this movie on DVD by one of the producers. While our self-imposed rules of the project do state that we’re watching every movie in our collection, we reserve the right to not include gifts if we don’t want to. This protects us from having to watch things we didn’t want and also means we make no guarantee of a review in the case that something is sent to us.

August 22, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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