Those faces that we’ve loved can make things complicated, especially when they keep coming back around…
Asako I & II is a slight but graceful ode to what it really means to be in love and all the emotional costs that come with it.
Asako lives in Osaka. She falls in love with Baku, a free-spirit. One day, Baku suddenly disappears. Two years later, Asako now lives in Tokyo and meets Ryohei. He looks just like Baku, but has a completely different personality.
A thematically fascinating concept, Asako I & II plays in some very light yet beautiful headspace that may have been just a little too slight to hit home in any kind of memorable fashion.
Writer/Director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi who you may know best from 2015’s Happy Hour crafts a very pretty looking film to be sure as it examines the nature and depth of a person’s love but moments that are actually supposed to feel more big and bold, kind of feel understated. That’s probably the point as love isn’t REALLY something that happens in dramatic Hollywoodesque type flourishes, it happens in quieter, more emotional, more panicked moments. Hamaguchi deftly bounces us in and out of reality and keeps us guessing to see if everything around Asako is actually happening or it’s just a figment of a very stressed out individual. He manages to keep the film at a very awkward but interesting balance between some odd and sweetly romantic moments and some disconcerting ones as well as we get roped into some excellent performances by our leads.
Erika Karata in the role of Asako brings an interesting level of emotionality to it. She runs the gamut from madly in love and sweet to an almost state of desperation. She brings a certain degree of cinematic lyricism to the role which makes her an interesting protagonist but it’s just a very thin narrative that she’s ultimately driving home with her performance and her character’s motivations. It’s almost as if the entire point of the story is to be resigned to a slightly weird and unsatisfying ending because if anything that’s actually how most love stories legitimately end. There’s uncertainty with this character and while she’s building something on a firm yet flimsy premise we still get invested in her and her story along the way.
That being said the real standout of the film comes with Masahiro Higashide in the dual role of both Baku AND Ryohei. It’s all done very subtly but he switches between two very distinct characters to the point that you have to blink a couple of times to realize that it’s the same guy in both parts. Dual roles like this can occasionally get a little hammy and over the top but Higashide plays it just right making sure that both sides of his coin have a casual but obvious indifference for the other. The dynamic of seeing a love triangle essentially play out between two people just isn’t something you see every day.
Ultimately, Asako I & II is one of those kinds of movies where you just have to be open to it all on an experiential level. It’s the kind of film that actually encourages you as the audience to get lost in the uncertainty of it all, just like any kind of love affair or relationship.
Asako I & II opens tomorrow at TIFF Bell Lightbox.