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Most Japanese films focus almost exclusively on Japanese characters, with non-Japanese typically relegated to bit roles, if they appear at all. This may have been excusable when non-Japanese were relatively scarce in the country, but now that more and more are living and working here, this omission is glaring.

Numbers back up this impression: In 2019, Japan had nearly 3 million residents of foreign nationality who account for 2.3% of the population. The often-heard assertion that “Japan is a homogenous country” sounds less and less convincing.

Chinese-Malaysian director Lim Kah Wai redresses this oversight with a vengeance in “Come and Go,” the final film in his Osaka trilogy (the others being 2011’s “New World” and 2013’s “Fly Me to Minami”). Nine different nationalities are represented in this ensemble drama, from a Japanese retiree (Jakujaku Katsura) who bridles at his son’s suggestion to relocate to Malaysia, to a Myanmar woman (Nang Tracy) who works at a convenience store to finance her education, while contending with sexual harassment by the store’s manager.

Come and Go
Rating
Run Time 158 mins.
Language Japanese, English, Mandarin, Korean, Nepali, Vietnamese and Burmese
Opens Nov. 19

Lim, who also scripted, edited and produced the film, may be guilty of creating an information overload — there are too many plotlines, some that intersect, others that do not. But the individual characters and their stories are compelling enough that the film’s editing rhythms, with one scene succeeding another at a rapid clip, become more stimulating than confusing. The usual description for a “portrait of the city” film is “mosaic,” but Lim’s is more like a spicy, bubbling stew, with various tasty morsels surfacing as the narrative pot is stirred.

Among the characters that pop up are a veteran detective (Seiji Chihara) who doggedly investigates an old woman’s suspicious death as his neglected wife (Makiko Watanabe) engages in an affair with a Nepalese man (Mousam Gurung); an Okinawan adult film producer (the single-named Shogen) who hires a naive country girl (Manami Usamaru) and promptly escorts her to a film set; a straight-arrow Malaysian businessman (J.C. Chee) who is dragged by a client to a hostess club; a harried Zainichi broker (Lee Kwang-soo) who is shepherding a group of South Korean prostitutes; a mixed-race Japanese part-timer (Orson Mochizuki) who moonlights as a courier for gangsters; and a Hong Konger (David Siu) who has brought his Japanese wife to live in Osaka — and now regrets it.

Their situations may be serious, even dangerously so, but the film does not treat their stories as good-versus-evil morality plays or slice-of-life reportage. Shady characters are shown to have vulnerable or even decent sides, while the overall vibe is distanced but sympathetic, leavened by comic interludes.

One example is the awkward friendship that develops between a mild-mannered Taiwanese adult film fan (Lee Kang-sheng) and a cranky Chinese tourist (the single-named Gouzi). The men meet by chance in a bookshop and end up at a cheap izakaya (Japanese pub). Over drinks, they compare China and Taiwan, bicker (“Why does Taiwan always oppose everything?” asks the tourist) and finally, bond. Backed by sharp, if underplayed, comedic performances, this funny and revealing segment suggests further adventures for the duo.

In fact, it’s easy to imagine Lim spinning any of these episodes into standalone films, creating his version of an Osaka-based “universe.” For the moment, though, we have “Come and Go,” which at 158 minutes is overlong. Still, given all the contemporary Japanese films that elide the country’s growing multicultural diversity, it’s hard to blame Lim for overcompensating and, in the process, being entertaining.

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