Golden Slumber -- Film Review

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HONG KONG -- Like Jason Bourne, the protagonist of "Golden Slumber" is a victim of a national security level conspiracy and spends the whole film on the run. Unlike the "Bourne" series, its point is not the thrill of the chase. Yet it is no less engrossing because it pushes its subject beyond genre expectations to propound on the theme of trust -- not just of people, but in one's own gut feeling rather than what the government, the media or your friends tell you. Cerebral audiences will appreciate the plot twists with precisely planted clues along the way.

This marks Yoshihiro Nakamura's third screen adaptation of Kotaro Isaka's bestselling novels after "The Foreign Duck, the Native Duck and God in a Coin Locker" and "Fish Story." Having successful precedents helped push domestic gross to a satisfactory $12 million-plus. Bargaining power for offshore ancillary deals should rise after its inclusion in Berlinale's Panorama.

Courier van driver Aoyagi (Masato Sakai) goes to Sendai city for a fishing holiday with alumni Morita for the first time in years. Once inside his car, Morita confesses he's been coerced into framing Aoyagi as "the new Oswald." At this point, two car explosions simultaneously kill Morita and the new Prime Minister on his victory parade. Aoyagi survives but the police forge evidence to implicate him as Japan's most wanted man.

While Hollywood's idea of adrenaline rush for viewers is car chases and spectacular crashes and casualties, Nakamura breaks up the momentum of Aoyagi's escape with flashbacks and digressions, even a running gag about his one claim to fame for saving an idol. Paced more like a rambling road movie, the mood runs the gamut from romantic to melodramatic to absurd.

Nonetheless, tension is sustained by the bizarre ways and situations in which unlikely people come to his aid, such as a baby-faced stranger wanted for serial stabbing, a mysterious hospital patient, Aoyagi's old flame Higuchi (Yuko Takeuchi) and her daughter, who intuits he's innocent. Always apart except in flashback, Nakamura still evokes unspoken understanding between Aoyagi and Higuchi. Sakai plays the daft everyman figure without turning into a clown or victim.

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Tight editing and complex logistics are employed to stage Aoyagi's escape sequences. One example is a police stake out that climaxes in visual pyrotechnics of the most incandescent and romantic kind.

Sendai comes over as a non-descript city, but the care in location scouting is noticeable. Music consists of vintage songs with nuanced lyric -- the Beetles' song that inspired the title poignantly intones the film's motif of "finding the way home."

Venue: Hong Kong International Film Festival
Reviewed at Toho press screening, Tokyo.
Production: Amuse Soft Entertainment Inc., Toho Inc.
Sales: CJ Entertainment Inc.
Cast: Masato Sakai, Yuko Takeuchi, Hidetaka Yoshioka, Gekidan Hitori, Teruyuki Kagawa, Akira Emoto.
Director-screenwriter: Yoshihiro Nakamura
Based on the novel by: Kotaro Isaka
Producers: Yasushi Utagawa, Hitoshi Endo, Hisashi Usui
Executive producers: Tomoaki Harada, Minami Ichikawa
Director of Photography: Takashi Komatsu
Production designer: Toshihiro Isomi
Costume designer: Miwako Kobayashi
Music: Kazuyoshi Saito
Editor: Hirohide Abe
No rating, 139 minutes
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