Lost Paradise in Tokyo -- Film Review

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Bottom Line: A tender film on an unusual sibling relationship.

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BUSAN, South Korea -- A Japanese salaryman, his mentally challenged brother and a call girl form an unconventional menage a trois in "Lost Paradise in Tokyo," which dramatizes the human need for companionship and contradictory desire to escape from society's constraints. The film's low budget and abstention from glossy visuals and artsy-craftsy film language lend it a humble sincerity. That also hampers it from breaking out of small indie circles.

Director Kazuya Shiraishi's atypical and unpatronizing take on disability is anchored by characters that evince audacious honesty even in their most selfish or weak moments. It is instrumental in overcoming a lukewarm start, and a dense screenplay with numerous turning points, to achieve heartfelt emotional resonance.

To real estate agent Mikio (Katsuya Kobayashi), who is harried for under-performance at work, taking in his mentally challenged elder brother Saneo (Takaki Uda) after their father's death is a heavy burden. Since the latter compulsively draws cryptic alien cyphers over any wall, Mikio keeps him house-bound. In his shame, he even lies about being an only child.

The paths of conformist Mikio and brazen Fala (Chika Uchida), a cos-player-cum-prostitute would never have crossed, if he hadn't hired her to service Saneo, who, to Mikio's exasperation, has manifested healthy sexual needs.

In contrast to Mikio's indifference, Fala, strikes up a deep rapport with Saneo. She also shares Mikio's urge to escape the drudgery of Tokyo life, and in time, he even buys into her dream of saving up money to own a private tropical island where Saneo can be free to be himself.

Fala persuades Mikio to let her appear in an adult video with Saneo. This leads unwittingly to exposure of Saneo's past record of sexual offense. Films featuring disabled people often skip over their sexuality, but "Lost" is open yet tactful when presenting sexually charged scenes.

Fala deduces that Saneo hurt the girl, only because "he does not know how to express his love." This applies to the other "normal" characters, too. The central drama is Mikio's rediscovery of his buried love for Saneo, and how to express it.

The film communicates the trio's serene bliss in simple diversions like dancing on an empty lot or strolling by the sea, as a counterpoint to the two protagonists' grandiose and solipsistic pipedream of escape -- "island" can also be construed as "I-land."

Pusan International Film Festival -- New Currents

Production: Cine Bazar Inc., Wakamatsu Production, Kazumo
Cast: Katsuya Kobayashi, Chika Uchida, Takaki Uda
Director-screenwriter: Kazuya Shiraishi
Screenwriter: Izumi Takahashi
Producers: Takahito Obinata, H. Saito
Director of photography: Tomohiko Tsuji
Production designer: Tsutomu Imamura
Music: Goro Yasukawa
Editor: Hitomi Kato
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