Third Window has been slowly building a name for itself through its no-budget releases (“Lowlife Love” is one of my favorite movies of the latest years) and “A Dobugawa Dream” seems to fit right in the company’s collection with its Sabu-like aesthetics. Let us take things from the beginning though.
The story revolves around a young man named Tatsumi, who feels completely lost and shattered after a close friend commits suicide. Frustrated with his current situation and feeling that his house, parents and the burden of choosing a future suffocating him, he decides to flee. Eventually he ends up in the company of Tsuchiro, an elderly alcoholic tormented by his own demons and a circle of other misfits including a push-over police officer, a barmaid and a dancer.
Asato Watanabe directs a film that begins as a rather dramatic portrait of depression and of disconnected youth, but soon transforms into a surrealistic road-trip, in a style that seems to have drawn from Sabu’s “Dangan Runner“. A drunken parade for a funeral of a man that was never dead, in the narrow streets most of the movie takes place in, functions as the dichotomy and also as a distinct sample of the narrative’s general aesthetics. It is in this scene that Tatsumi is introduced to Tsuchiro and his inner circle of intriguing “lowlifes” and gradually his life begins to change, as it is also revealed that his true search is for a mentor and a father figure, but definitely not in the usual interpretation of the term. One could say that people who feel bad about themselves tend to stick to others who are in worse condition than them (in the former’s opinion at least) but that does not seem to be the case here, since it is difficult to say if Tatsumi is in a better situation than Tsuchiro, at least excluding the fact that he is still young and will probably have more chances in his life.
It is this aspect, however, that kind of faults the meaning of the movie, since Watanabe seems not to be 100% sure of the solution to the issues the movie presents. The drunken oblivion Tsuchiro has chosen does not seem to be the proper path, letting go seems incredibly hard, tough love offers just temporary relief and anger seems to be the only constant. Perhaps in that regard, one could say that Watanabe states that there is no solution, just accepting and moving forward. Perhaps. On the other hand, his comments and the issues themselves are quite clear: family can be also formed by people not related by blood; the impact the loss of a friend can have, particularly for young people, and the sense of loss Japanese youth feel these days, particularly regarding their future.
The way the narrative unfolds is probably the film’s best asset, with the many scenes where the protagonists are running (the Dangan Runner aspect) and the combination of surrealist images with punk/rock music, the quirky/ humor as presented by the police officer and the black that comes at the most unexpected times, and the drunken “mentorship” of Tsuchori carrying the film for the whole of its duration
The cinematography by Wataru Nakajo generally follows the overall oneiric aesthetics of the movie, but there are some scenes that it truly excels, like the one with the death during the shoji game and the overall presentation of the suicide, with the latter also highlighting Watanabe’s own job in the editing department.
The acting is also on a high level, through a combination of quirkiness, drama and surrealism. Yuwa Kitagaki as Tatsumi highlights his issues through a performance that is interesting, but occasionally crosses the borders of hyperbole, although in fitting fashion with the general aesthetics of the film. Takahiro Fujita’s presence as Tsuchiro is quite dominating, with him depicting the washed up, heroic mentor with gusto, in a rather nuanced performance.
The fact that Watanabe is still quite young seems to have an impact on the context of the film and his overall command of the medium, but the potential and the raw energy are definitely there; they just need to mature a bit. Nevertheless, “A Dobugawa Dream” is a more than hopeful debut that will satisfy all fans of the “between films“, (the ones that are neither blockbuster manga adaptations neither follow the Koreeda rules of the family drama).