BERLIN -- Naoko Ogigami loves to ship her marginal characters to world's end outposts to watch the sparks fly when they interact with the staid local community. From the wintry climes of Helsinki, where her most recent film, "Kamome Diner," is set, Ogigami maroons her compact cast of four-eyed eccentrics to an unnamed, un-exotic Japanese seaside resort to shoot "Megane" and comes up with a mildly magical beach bum's guide to Zen vacationing.
Surfing on the modest but unexpected success of "Diner," "Megane" remixes the recipe of the former with a breezier and more unforced rhythm and reunites actresses Satomi Kobayashi with Masako Motai for an alternative type of female friendship. So it should lure back the same kind of quasi-art house audience. Selection by Sundance and the Berlinale is a promising start.
It's spring, still off-peak season for beach resorts, but the sleepy Hamada Inn run by the equally dopey Yuji (Ken Mitsuishi) stirs with the arrival of two women. Sakura (Motai), a mysterious lady, makes her annual stopover to sell shaved ice at a makeshift vending hut. Taeko (Kobayashi), an uptight urban professional, is a first-time inn patron. Yuji praises Taeko for finding her way to the hotel: "You have a talent to be here," he says, suggesting that something karmic is at work.
Taeko is slightly addled by the inn's custom of eating with the staff and the locals, Sakura's in-room morning calls and invitations to join exercises that look like tai-chi for spastics. She becomes disconcerted when told that there is nowhere to sightsee, so the only pastime for guests is "twilighting" -- the local dialect for pottering about and staring into space. Her attempt to find another resort turns into a wry satire of eco-travel, and she is soon lugging her case back to Hamada. The dynamics change with the arrival of Yomogi (Ryo Kase), a young man who calls her "mentor." He takes to "twilighting" like a duck to water. Eventually, Taeko finds comfort going with the flow.
The characters are observed from a polite distance through gorgeously composed medium or long shots against a postcardlike background of emerald hills and shimmering blue sea. No attempt is made to delve into their background or motives. It is Ogigami's way of giving the characters and the audience space for imagination. Suffice that everyone needs to take a break and unwind.
Like Sakura's shaved ice, "Megane" is frappe-light but conveys a soothing mood with a philosophical undertone about shifts in perspectives, symbolized by the title, which means "Glasses."
Nippon Television Network Corp./VAP Inc./chat chat Corp./Paradise Cafe Inc./Nikkatsu Corp.
Screenwriter-director: Naoko Ogigami
Producers: Shuichi Komuro, Enma Maekawa
Executive producers: Seiji Okuda, Kumi Kubota
Director of photography: Noboru Tanimine
Art director: Mayumi Tomita
Music: Takahiro Kaneko
Editor: Shinichi Fushima
Taeko: Satomi Kobayashi
Sakura: Masako Motai
Yuji: Ken Mitsuishi
Haruna: Mikako Ichikawa
Yomogi: Ryo Kase
Running time -- 106 minutes
No MPAA rating