Over the weekend I was fortunate enough to catch a film at the 2010 Shinsedai Cinema Festival. Curated by Chris MaGee, of Toronto J-Film Pow-Wow, and Jasper Sharp, of Midnight Eye, Shinsedai showcases the best of Japanese independent cinema. Shinsedai is now in its second year but this was my first at the festival. Though time constraints of the weekend hindered me from seeing more than one film, Naito Takatsugu’s The Dark Harbour, Shinsedai has definitely wet my appetite to see more of what Japanese cinema has to offer.
The Dark Harbour is a quirky blend of comedy and drama that tells the tale of a lonely fisherman, Manzo (Shinya Kote), who is desperate in desperate need of a companion. The problem is Manzo is rather clueless in regards to how exactly to get a date. Manzo spends so much time trying to look cool that he is oblivious to the opportunities that present themselves. When a local company sets up a video dating night for city women and fishermen, Manzo jumps at the chance to final fill the void in his life. Though the chance for happiness may be closer than he ever imagined. Unbeknownst to Manzo, a young woman, Mitsuko (Yuko Miyamoto), and her son, Masao (Kazuki Hirooka) are secretly living inside Manzo’s closet.
While the premise may sound odd on paper, The Dark Harbour is one of those films that will ultimately have you leaving the theatre smiling. Even in the more downbeat moments there is a charm that never lets you go. A large part of the films appeal is the work of the three leads. Kote is wonderful as Manzo, although we are only with him for a short time you feel like you have known him forever. You cannot help but want him to obtain that happiness he so desperately craves. Both Miyamoto and Hirooka complement Kote’s performance nicely. They really help to sell the whole makeshift family aspect of the film.
If there is one aspect the film could have improved on is the overall pacing of the script. There are times when the film veers off the central Manzo/Mitsuko arc in order to have random comedic moments featuring some of the other fisherman in town. While amusing, the scenes do very little to further the overall plot of the film. Speaking of plot, The Dark Harbour would have also been better served with a little more focus on the character of Mitsuko. Naito Takatsugu establishes early on that Mitsuko has had trouble with men in the past though it is never elaborated on. Although the arrival of “the sufer” in the restaurant triggers a passion with Mitsuko; Takatsugu never clarifies what is it exactly about “the sufer” that causes Mitsuko to make the choices she makes? Even Masao does not seem to comprehend Mitsuko’s choice of action in the last act.
Despite the fact that Mitsuko may not be a character as fully realized as Manzo is, Takatsugu’s The Dark Harbour still manages to succeed on many levels. The film proves that, in a roundabout way, life’s true reward is having someone to share it with.
Prior to the to the screening of The Dark Harbour the audience was treated to a short by director Shoh Kataoka entitled Jellyfish Boy. The short examines the friendship between Kotaro (Ren Yasuda) and his best friend, who he calls Jellyfish Boy (Daiki Gunji). Over the course of the day we see the two boys play and discuss heavy issues such as independence and marriage. Although the subjects of discussion may be deeper than one would expect from children of such a young age, the childlike innocence in regards to how they see the world is always present. Jellyfish Boy is a heart-warming film that will have the viewer longing for the return of their own childlike innocence.