Wandering Home -- Film Review

 A prodigal son story that takes too long to drive home its message.

"Wandering Home" is yet another Japanese family drama that demonstrates Japanese women's inexhaustible patience and forgiveness, disguised as an alcoholic's purgatorial rehab experience.


Writer-director Yoichi Higashi's screenplay abstains from any kitchen sink histrionics, recording his subject's every move and fickle thought like a social case-study program on TV.

The effect is sobering, but its downbeat tone is more to Japanese taste than an international audience, even with eminent actor Tadanobu Asano giving blood, sweat and tears for his role.

After retching blood all over the toilet bowl, Yasuyuki Tsukahara (Asano) promises his illustrator ex-wife Yuki (Hiromi Nagasaku) he'll quit drinking. But after another relapse (painfully realistic), he is checked into a psychiatric ward, then transferred to a clinic for alcoholics.

Although what Tsukahara goes through is like a see-saw ride of denial, frustration, self-reflection and re-connection with others, the dramatic momentum is punctured by starts and stops in narrative rhythm. His interactions with various oddball types in the clinics are too long and too wordy, slowing the film to a drunken stupor. There are sudden surreal flights of fantasy that are facile attempts to make the film more offbeat.

Asano over-exerts himself in these scenes. Otherwise, his impersonation of a spoiled child who doesn't know nor cares about the grief he causes others is a subtle elaboration on his role as the self-destructive novelist in "Villon's Wife." Nagasaku brings both a touch of childish mischief and composure to the role of Yuki, enough so that her infinite patience doesn't seem too saintly or stoic.

The scenes that actually work are those that involve Tsukahara's two young children, like two occasions when the older brother stealthily shoos his sister away from a violent tantrum Tsukahara is having, or when they see Yuki cry to herself in the kitchen. The more well-behaved and wise beyond their age they appear, the more it one pities them for not having the carefree childhood they deserved.

The film is adapted from the autobiography of notable war photographer Yutaka Kamoshida, but meaningful background to his life and behavior is only divulged in a sharing session at the A.A. clinic, which is a poignant yet liberating point in the film, given how unusual it is for Japanese to confess their feelings.

Tokyo International Film Festival -- Japanese Eyes
Sales: Siglo Ltd.
Production: Siglo Ltd., Pappu, Bitters' End
Cast: Tadanobu Asano, Hiromi Nagasaku, Yoshiko Kayama, Tsusuke Fujioka, Kurea Mori
Director-screenwriter-editor: Yoichi Higashi
Based on the autobiography by: Yutaka Kamoshida
Producer: Hiroki Ohwada, Yuji Sadai, Mitsuru Oshima
Executive producer: Tetsujiro Yamagami
Director of photography: Shinji Kugimiya
Production designer: Toshihiro Isomi
Costume designer: Masae Miyamoto
No rating, 118 minutes