A Film a Week - A Hundred Flowers / Hyakka

 previously published on Asian Movie Pulse

Dementia seems to be the name of the game in cinema over the course of recent years. After the Richard Glatzer’s and Wash Westmoreland’s effort “Still Alice” (2014) that took Julianne Moore to her first and so far only Oscar for playing the titular character, an academian who has to deal with the illness that will rapidly take her greatest asset, and even more impressive Florian Zeller’s stage play adaptation “The Father” (2020) that brought Anthony Hopkins his second Academy Award for the role, the Japanese novelist and producer Genki Kawamura took his own novel on the same topic as a source for his feature-length directorial debut. After the premiere at San Sebastian and the tour of festivals in East and Southeast Asia (Tokyo International, Hong Kong Asian Film Festival, Bangkok World Film Festival), “A Hundred Flowers” was screened at Belgrade International Film Festival.

On the New Year’s Eve, and just before her birthday, the retired piano teacher Yuriko Kasai (Mieko Harada) wanders off from her apartment only to be found some time later by her son Izumi (Masaki Suda) who came to visit her, honouring their family tradition. At first, she mistakes him for someone else, but she quickly finds the excuse in the form of some last-minute shopping. When she gets lost again, this time leading to a less innocent situation involving some involuntary shoplifting, her diagnosis of rapidly moving Alzheimer’s is set. She is not able to live on her own any more, and Izumi has to take care of her, or to find someone to do so until he finds her a suitable facility.

Izumi also has concerns of his own, mainly revolving around the fact that he and his wife Kaori (Masami Nagasawa), with whom he works in the same hi-tech company of the same project of creating an AI-based virtual idol, are expecting. The prospects of fatherhood are exciting, but also terrifying for him, and the main reason for it is the relationship between him and his mother, involving an unpleasant childhood memory of Yuriko disappearing for a year. Yuriko’s memories are definitely fading, and they are about to be relegated to the wish to see the “half-fireworks” (Izumi is not even sure what is she talking about) one more time, but neither Izumi’s are stable.

A Hundred Flowers” is a film about memories and forgetfulness, and the traumas mounting growing up or growing old. As such, it is a potent mood-piece powered by Kawamura’s apt using of the shifting perspectives in order to portray the distortions of one’s vision of reality, but also the memories. Meaning, even when we do not know where the film goes, he surely does.

The reason for it is a very apt use of the talent both in front of and behind the camera. Shohei Amimori’s music choices consisting mainly of the tried-and-tested classical pieces of Bach and Schumann create the gentle, but sombre mood that fits the topic, while the meditative editing by Sakura Seya is occasionally interrupted by some sharper cuts when needed. However, the real hero is the cinematographer Keisuke Imamura whose sometimes hectic hand-held camerawork easily switches to the steadicam mode in order to achieve some beautifully composed shots.

In the acting department, Mieko Harada’s (of Akira Kurosawa’s “Ran” and “Dreams” fame) moves are not ostentatious, so her performance is far from an awards-bait, but it is impressive nevertheless in a low-key kind of way. On the other hand, Masaki Suda (best known for the leading role in Yoshiuki Kishi’s 2017 dark epic “Ah, Koya”) has a tougher task to deal with as a man with an internalized pain, Masami Nagasawa’s presence is calm and relaxing, while Masatoshi Nagase (seen in Jim Jarmusch films “Mystery Train” and “Paterson”) has a memorable role in a prolonged flashback sequence that is too precious to spoil.

In the end, “A Hundred Flowers” is a moody, emotionally charged film that deals with human relations, memories, resentments, forgetfulness and letting go. That way, it transcends its starting topic of illness which it never treats in an exploitative manner and becomes something more universal.

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