photos: Newlyweds Akiko (Mitsuki Takahata) and Masakazu Isshiki (Masato Sakai) stand in front of their home, in the film Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura. (She looks a bit young for him, no? There’s an explanation for that!)
This Japanese fantasy film is lovely, charming, and funny, without being corny, sweet without being saccharine. It makes marriage look quite nice, too. (Go ahead and laugh, you cynics!)
For me, seeing Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura was the film festival equivalent of winning the lottery – win, win all around! The screening was sold out, or close to it. I knew next to nothing about the story going in, but I suspect that many people there were big fans of the manga series Kamakura Monogatari by Ryohei Saigan that inspired the film.
Now I want to visit the Japanese city of Kamakura, or at the very least spend hours reading about it on the Internet. See the end of this review for more about Kamakura.
As the film opens, mystery novelist Masakazu Isshiki (Masato Sakai) and his wife, Akiko (Mitsuki Takahata) are returning from their honeymoon to live in his hometown of Kamakura. The city looks pretty – we see a beach, amazingly close to the train line, the famous giant Buddha statue, etc. Isshiki’s large car looks quite fancy, too, so I guess his books sell well.
Akiko met Isshiki when she was working for his publisher. According to the English subtitles, Isshiki calls his wife Akiko, she calls him “dear,” and everyone else calls him “professor.” Based on the fashion, and other things, the story seems to be set in the 1960s. (At one point, there was a brief glimpse of a Japanese calendar page, but I could not read it.)
Isshiki tells Akiko that Kamakura is a special place and that time passes there in a different way, compared to Tokyo. He assures her that she will get used to it. Oh yeah, there’s another thing. People, spirits and other creatures have been co-existing in Kamakura for thousands of years. The spirits usually come out in the evening. They even have a colourful night market that’s illuminated by paper lanterns. Something bought at that night market will be problematic at first, and useful later.
In his writing life, Isshiki seems to have a long-standing problem meeting his publishing deadlines. Is this because he prefers to play with his elaborate model-train sets or does he only play with them when he already has writer’s block? Might be one of those chicken-and-egg questions.
Sometimes Isshiki has a valid excuse to pause in his writing; to help the police solve a case, just like Sherlock Holmes. Certainly, his overcoat reminded me of Holmes.
Actor Shinichi Tsutsumi, who frequently portrays comical characters, is relatively subdued here as Honda, Isshiki’s literary agent. (I think that’s what he is. At any rate, he’s the guy who must deliver Isshiki’s manuscripts to the publisher.) Honda does become more excitable after he turns into a frog, though. Ha, I’m not going to explain (spoil) how that happens. You’ll have to watch yourself!
I took pages and pages of notes while watching, but really, Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura is full of details that are best left for audiences to discover. (Some reviews of this film that give away too much of the plot, selon moi.) There are many rules, traditions, legends and monsters to explore in this very special place. There are a few elements in the film that reminded me of the Korean TV drama Goblin. Something to discuss with friends who have seen both.
BTW: Takashi Yamazaki, the director of Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura, has worked with Kamakura Monogatari author Ryohei Saigan before. Saigan also wrote the manga Sanchōme no Yūhi, (Always: Sunset on Third Street) which led to three films, all directed by Yamazaki. Actor Shinichi Tsutsumi played a garage mechanic in all of them.
Masato Sakai (Isshiki) played the main character in Yoshihiro Nakamura’s film Golden Slumber (2010), which was shown at Fantasia that year. (I reviewed it for the Montreal Gazette then, but somehow dozens of my reviews from 2010 had disappeared by late 2012. Oh, well.)
ABOUT KAMAKURA: It takes about one hour by train to get to Kamakura from Tokyo. (Trains are important in the film! ) One site says it’s “the most popular day trip destination from Tokyo.” Is that another way of saying that it can get quite crowded? I think so!
Archeology shows that people have been living there for thousands of years. Some claim that it was the fourth largest city in the world in 1250 AD. To this day Kamakura has many beautiful Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. A large outdoor statue of Buddha, the Kamakura Daibutsu was built around 1252. It used to be inside a temple, but it was destroyed after a storm. The temple was rebuilt several times after storms and one tsunami, but it looks like people gave up eventually!
There’s lots of info on the Internet, but here is a site run by the city of Kamakura itself, with beautiful photos, suggestions, itineraries and weather information. Even winter doesn’t sound bad from a Montreal perspective: the temperature is “rarely below 33°F.” That’s zero Celsius (more or less). I’d take it!
The Internet also tells me that many writers have lived there over the years. “Basically, if you name any famous author in Japan active during the 20th century, chances are that they’ve lived in Kamakura at some point in their lives.”
Destiny The Tale of Kamakura
In Japanese with English subtitles
Runtime: 129 min.
Director: Takashi Yamazaki
Writer: Ryohei Saigan (manga), Takashi Yamazaki
Masato Sakai, Mitsuki Takahata, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Sakura Ando, Min Tanaka, Jun Kunimura