The work of the late novelist Yasushi Sato, who took his own life in 1990, has been enjoying a minor cinematic renaissance over the past decade. Starting with Kazuyoshi Kumakiri’s “Sketches of Kaitan City” in 2010, the author’s stories have spawned four films to date.
Mipo Oh’s superb “The Light Shines Only There” and Nobuhiro Yamashita’s less convincing “Over the Fence” completed the so-called Hakodate trilogy of tales set in the author’s Hokkaido hometown. The latest addition, “And Your Bird Can Sing,” is actually based on a 1982 novel about Tokyo suburbanites, but writer-director Sho Miyake’s adaptation relocates it to present-day Hakodate — albeit a version of the city where the residents speak like they’ve arrived fresh from the capital.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||106 mins.|
The unnamed protagonist (Tasuku Emoto), listed simply as “Boku” (“Me”) in the film’s credits, works at a bookstore while sharing an apartment — and bunk bed — with his unemployed pal, Shizuo (Shota Sometani). They’re not the most dynamic of duos: After missing a shift and getting scolded by his boss, “Boku” makes a date later in the evening with co-worker Sachiko (Shizuka Ishibashi), only to oversleep and end up drinking until dawn with his roommate instead.
Rather than telling him to get stuffed, Sachiko gives him another chance, and soon enough they’re romping together on the bottom bunk. But things get complicated as soon as Shizuo enters the mix, and quickly hits it off with his friend’s new friend-with-benefits. As they start hanging out as a trio, hitting the local pool halls, bars and nightclubs, their studiedly carefree existence begins to look more like a love triangle. And sooner or later, one of them is going to get hurt.
Emoto and Sometani have both played these kinds of slackers many times before, and they don’t get much opportunity to stretch themselves here. Ishibashi is generally the more interesting screen presence. Coming on the back of her breakout performance in last year’s “The Tokyo Night Sky is Always the Densest Shade of Blue,” she’s clearly the go-to actress for humanizing characters who would otherwise be intensely irritating, shading in the contours of an underwritten role.
Though Sato’s novel is over 35 years old, its depiction of young people deferring the hard choices of adulthood for as long as possible still resonates. It’s too bad that Miyake’s treatment of the material is as vague in its ambitions as the film’s protagonists. Aside from some clunky voiceovers bookending the film, his script never really brings the main characters into focus, leaving viewers to deduce what’s going on between them.
There’s an awful lot of hanging out in “And Your Bird Can Sing,” and multiple scenes drift by without contributing to anything except the film’s running time. A protracted nightclub sequence captures a sense of the blurred lines in the trio’s relationship, yet Miyake appears more interested in showcasing cameos by rapper OMSB and DJ/producer Hi’Spec (who contributed the languid soundtrack) than furthering the plot.
“And Your Bird Can Sing” manages to avoid the usual cliches of Japanese youth dramas, but seems unsure what to replace them with. Even when it rallies for a memorable ending, the scene is undercut by its resemblance to the more powerful denouement of “The Light Shines Only There,” compounding the sense that this could have been so much more.