If someone tells you they come from another planet, you assume they’re nuts, do you not? Unless you believe you’re an extraterrestrial yourself.
Such is the bizarre situation of the Osugi family in Daihachi Yoshida’s “A Beautiful Star,” with TV weatherman Dad (Lily Franky) being from Mars, college student Akiko (Ai Hashimoto) from Venus and bike messenger Kazuo (Kazuya Kamenashi) from Mercury. Only flaky Mom (Tomoko Nakajima), who sells bottled water in a kind of pyramid scheme, is an Earthling.
Loosely based on a 1962 novel by Yukio Mishima, the film thus has the setup of a quirky comedy. But just as Mishima’s novel reflected its Cold War-era fears of nuclear annihilation, Yoshida’s film unfolds on a planet on the verge of environmental catastrophe. As a comedy, it’s the deepest shade of black.
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But does it really belong on the comedy shelf? As he proved in “The Kirishima Thing” (2012) and “Pale Moon” (2014), Yoshida is a master of using a genre framework — be it seishun eiga (youth movies) in the former film or caper comedy in the latter — to knowingly comment on social ills and human frailties. And Yoshida has won awards that usually don’t go to laugh merchants, including best picture and best director Japan Academy Prizes for “The Kirishima Thing.”
“A Beautiful Star” is similar in being outwardly silly but actually serious, even bleak, about the human experiment. Its title is not a bitter joke, though. Instead, it states a simple truth often lost in the loud back-and-forth of environmental politics: We live in a beautiful little corner of the universe. But Yoshida, who co-wrote the script, counters with another, more disturbing observation: Wouldn’t our planet be better off without us?
As the story begins, Dad is in a comfortable rut, joking about the weather with an on-air news reader and sleeping with an ambitious young female forecaster who transparently wants his job. Then he encounters a mysterious white light and emerges as a Martian. Soon after, Kazuo is in a planetarium when after a failed make-out session with his girlfriend, he gets a call from a heavenly body.
Finally a creepy, if good-looking, classmate tells Akiko he is from Venus — and she is too, only she just doesn’t know it. She starts to believe him and together they go out to signal to UFOs with weird hand gestures.
This may smack more of woo-woo fantasy than sci-fi, but the consequences of discovering their extraterrestrial origins are no joke for the Osugis. Dad harangues his TV audience with dire warnings of planetary apocalypse, placing his job in danger. Kazuo falls into the orbit of Takamori (Kuranosuke Sasaki) a saturnine political operative and another Mercurian, who plans to hasten what he believes to be humanity’s richly deserved doom, with Kazuo’s assistance. Finally, Akiko learns she is pregnant, but tells Mom she is still a virgin. What on Earth is that about?
All this and more is open to interpretation — “A Beautiful Star” delivers no obvious message — but the Osugis’ story eloquently illustrates our alienation from nature, society, each other and our essential selves. Sound depressing? But the film also holds out hope, at least for aliens with a UFO ticket home. The rest of us had better get our planetary act together.