Writer/director Hirobumi Watanabe is a relative newcomer to Japanese cinema, with his first film “And the Mud Ship Sails Away” released in 2013. However, he has become one of the most watched new talents with 2016’s “Poolside Man” taking the Cinema Splash Award at the Tokyo International Film Festival. With this new film “Party ‘Round the Globe” (2017) he once again shows a unique talent for unusual tragi-comic storytelling.
The film begins with a charming sequence, as a young child narrates the story of a fantastical land where a boy fixated on the moon creates a machine that fills the sky with hundreds of other moons. So many moons are there that it becomes impossible to distinguish which is real. All of the children then decide to take balloons and float off to find the true moon. This introductory sequence, brightly colored with children’s illustrations and with a whimsical air has seemingly little to do with the rest of the film, but provides an insight into the themes. After this prologue, we are introduced to two men in a car who are on their way to a Paul McCartney concert at the Tokyo Dome. One is a talkative Beatlemaniac, involved in a monologue about his love of The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and more (played by Hirobumi Watanabe). The driver (Gaku Imamura) however is quiet, in fact, he never once speaks throughout the movie, and contemplative. This is our protagonist, a lonely individual who works at an electronics company with the other man. We learn a little about him as the film progresses that sheds light on his solitary existence.
“Party ‘Round the Globe” is filmed entirely in black and white (except the introductory scene) with lengthy scenes shot on static cameras. It uses repetitive sequences of the lead character’s work and home life where very little appears to be happening. Throughout we often see the character listening to various tragedies from around the world on the radio. The languorous pace will no doubt be unbearable to some people. In fact, it almost becomes exhausting watching this man perform daily chores as the world goes on around him. The film is at its most entertaining with the two character’s in the car and this provides most of the humor. It is a film of two distinct halves, with their road trip being a comedy of awkward companions, and the man’s own story, which sees him in a dreary, purposeless life following a misfortune that is hinted at but never made explicit.
Hirobumi Watanabe shows great skill as a director. Almost every scene is well framed and it is clear that the long takes and static camera work are intentional. If you can sit through the apparent monotony, it becomes clear that there is meaning behind what is happening. The stories on the radio, the long silences, and many seemingly incidental details become important. Various flashbacks, even one dream sequence of his pet dog, give us an insight into what has led to his current state. The music, provided by Yuji Watanabe (the director’s brother), is well suited to the tone of the film which is neither overly dramatic or intrusive, but wistful and somehow soothing.
Watanabe does a great job as the excitable music fan. He is humorous, childlike and passionate with a clear love of life. This is in stark contrast to his companion. Gaku Imamura has no dialogue in the film but manages to convey the hopelessness of the character. He is a man who has been almost defeated by life and is just going through the same boring routine with little to look forward to. His contemplative mood becomes infectious and forces the audience to also consider the various misfortunes humans face.
“Party ‘Round the Globe” strips away many conventional story elements and a recognizable plot arc to instead show two characters who are going nowhere, though one is clearly more optimistic about the future than the other. The film may frustrate audiences due to a lack of any perceivable change occurring to the characters. In the final moments, it is not clear whether they have learned anything from their experience. Almost every aspect of the film remains vague even at the end. The themes, emotions, even much of the backstory are left as a mystery. However, the talented direction and charisma of the actors create a work that is equally entertaining and genuinely depressing. There are several memorable scenes that carry a great emotional weight and an important message if you take the time to consider them.