Family dramas revolving around a family funeral are quite common in Japanese cinema. Toshiyuki Teruya, however, manages to distinguish himself from the plethora of similar productions by using Senkotsu (bone washing) as his base theme. Senkotsu is an Okinawan local ritual, during which involves taking the dead body out of the tomb, after all the flesh is gone, and after being cleaned by his/her close relatives, the bones are again buried in the tomb, which allows the soul to finally leave “this world”.
Takashi comes back to his hometown in Aguni island, Okinawa for his mother’s Senkotsu. His father Nobutsuna is living alone after his wife’s death, and he has succumbed to alcoholism, an ailment that had troubled him and his family before. Takashi blames Nobutsuna for his mother’s death, since she worked very hard to pay the debt for his company. Takashi’s sister Yuko, who lives in Nagoya, also comes back, but to everyone’s surprise, she is 9 months pregnant. Takashi cannot accept Yuko’s free willingness, and when she explains her situation, which involves a hair stylist she worked for, the issue becomes even more complicated. The family is filled with an awkward mood while the day of the mother’s Senkotsu is approaching, and even the hairstylist eventually appears.
Toshiyuki Teruya directs a film that lingers between the comedy and drama, with the story providing the first aspect and the characters the second. Teruyra makes a point of showing how prejudice and the lack of sincerity that derives from it can poison the relationships between family members and how the exact opposite behaviour, of understanding and being truthful can actually mend even the most broken ones. Senkotsu and the events that occur during the ritual function as the catalyst between the two opposite concepts, with Teruya inducing the procedure with additional meaning, by connecting a death ceremony with new life, in a wonderful, and quite metaphysical sample of the way life moves in circles.
At the same time, he also highlights life in the small islands, where the people are always curious and gossipy, but also eager to help their fellow inhabitants when they are in actual trouble.
Through all these “serious” concepts, a number of characters provide much laughter, particularly the hair stylist with his quirkiness, and Nobutsuna’s sister, with her strict and bossy attitude. In general, the acting is quite good, in perfect resonance with the film’s aesthetics. Eiji Okuda is convincing as the drunk but regretful Nobutsuna, as is the case with Michitaka Tsutsui as the moral and judgmental Takashi, although his finest hours come when he finally reveals the truth about his actual situation. The one who steals the show though, is Ayame Misaki as Yuko, who highlights her character’s vulnerability and resolve in delightful fashion, with the scene where she screams in the boat being one of the most memorable in the film.
The production values follow the general rules of the Japanese indie, with the editing retaining a medium-speed pace, somewhere between the art-house and the mainstream. The cinematography focuses on highlighting the beauties of the area, as much as depicting life in Aguni with utmost realism.
“Born Bone Born” is a very easy to watch and quite entertaining film, that also gives the opportunity to learn about a rare custom and life in Okinawan islands.