'Pale Moon': Tokyo Review

Courtesy of Tokyo International Film Festival
It's more blessed to give than to receive

Rie Miyazawa stars as a housewife turned embezzler in Yoshida Daihaci’s fantasy drama

Going from strength to strength, director Yoshida Daihachi (The Kirishima Thing) returns to the themes of conformity and rebellion in Japanese society in Pale Moon (Kami no Tsuki), the story of an obedient housewife who becomes an embezzler to live it up with a young lover. Though seemingly played for straight drama, there are mischievous clues throughout the film that other readings are possible, confirmed in the surprise ending. The fun — and anxiety — lies in watching the delightfully proper heroine overturn the conventions of a highly regimented country, and stage and screen actress Rie Miyazawa is fully up to delivering outrageous behavior in a subtle, almost deadpan performance. One of the strongest competition entries in this year’s Tokyo festival, it should shoot straight to the festival circuit and would make a fine candidate for exotic art house pick-ups. Shociku releases in Japan in November.

Yoshida’s talent for light comedy, seen in his Cannes Critics Week entry Funuke Show Some Love, You Losers!, is kept under wraps here, and there will be viewers who follow the story as a straight immorality play, watching housewife Rika Umezawa (Miyazawa) slip away from her boring, inattentive husband and into a life of daily crime. Her fall from grace is emphasized in flashbacks to her girlhood in a Catholic school and a key episode when she is smitten by a charity drive. The nuns want the kids to donate half their allowances to help needy children, but Rika is so convinced that she steals big money from her Dad’s wallet. When caught, her self-righteous defense is that the ends justify the means.

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The idealist in her is still there under cover when we meet her as a demurely uniformed bank employee, selling bonds and retirement funds door-to-door to her elderly, well-off clientele. At the home of one rich man, she meets his grandson, the college student Kota (up-and-coming young actor Sosuke Ikematsu in a convincing perf), who can’t take his eyes off her. Though mousily attired, Rika really is lovely, but when after being stalked by the lovesick lad she lets him take her to a cheap motel, the film hits its first dizzy turning point.

Kota is a nice boy but is on the verge of dropping out of school because he doesn’t have the money for tuition. His rich grandfather won’t budge and Rika seizes an opportunity to help.  She simply makes out a fake cashier’s check for Grandpa and gives $20,000 in cash to Kota as a “loan”. It’s the first of a very long series of switcheroos she performs at the bank, thanks to her impeccable reputation and the assistant manager’s less than impeccable shortcuts, all under the disapproving eye of her suspicious supervisor Mrs. Sumi (Satomi Kobayashi).

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With amusement and trepidation, the audience watches the heroine burn more and more bridges as she throws herself into a life of luxury hotels, restaurants, clothes and expensive gifts for her young lover. When her husband is transferred to China, she turns their apartment into a messy counterfeiter’s den. The more she goes against society’s mores and becomes a free and independent woman, the more the noose of coming retribution tightens around her neck. When the day of reckoning finally comes, however, more surprises lay in store in Kaeko Hayafune’s liberating closing scenes, all based on a novel by the award-winning woman author Mitsuyo Kakuta.

From the sterile, spotless bank to the chaos of Rika’s topsy-turvy apartment, everything is pleasantly shot in an elegantly subdued palette by cinematographer Makoto Shiguma. The soundtrack adds its own dose of ironic freedom with Lou Reed’s Femme Fatale. The one sour note to mention is the painfully obvious product placement that crosses the line into blatant advertising.

Production company:  Robot Communications
Cast: Rie Miyazawa, Sosuke Ikematsu, Renji Ishibashi, Satomi Kobayashi, Yoshimasa Kondo, Yuko Ohshima, Seiichi Tanabe, Yoshimasa Kondo, Renji Ishibashi
Director: Daihachi Yoshida
Screenwriter: Kaeko Hayafune, based on a novel by Mitsuyo Kakuta
Producers: Fumitsugu Ikeda, Satoko Ishid, Naomi Akashi
Director of photography: Makoto Shiguma
Music: The Velvet Underground, Nico
Sales Agent: Shochiku
No rating, 126 minutes