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It's summer time in Japan and all of our hero's friends are gone for the holidays. Masao is a sullen sort of boy who mopes around with nothing to do. He lives with his grandmother as his parents are not around to take care of him. As watchers, we glean the general situation that Masao's mother was an unwed youth at the time she bore him and that the father is either unknown or way gone. And Masao's mother, it is said, is working toward one day being able to afford to take him back into her life.
Grandmother isn't around much, and isn't fun to play with anyway. Masao is devastatingly lonely in the first days of what looks to be the summer that will never end. But one day while moping about, a busybody neighbor lady talks to him and finds out that he wants to find his mother. This lady sends her husband or boyfriend with Masao, telling him to help the lad find his mom. This older guy is a strange character, kind of a developmentally challenged ne'er-do-well troublemaker. What the neighbor lady is doing with him is unclear, but, boyfriend or not, she casts him as a maladjusted flake, and, indeed, this is what he seems to be.
Instead of taking Masao to his mother, he takes him to the horse races. Masao stands by all day as "Mister" loses wager after wager. In desperation, Mister asks Masao to pick two numbers-and as luck would have it, the numbers win. Mister is thrilled and drags Masao into his night on the town with girls and booze and passing out late in the evening.
The evening passes in a dreamlike daze, which gives the frame device of the film some room to develop: we see a lot of Masao's interpretation through his dream sequences and through his photo album entitled "What I Did on My Summer Vacation." His dreams, the snapshots of himself and Mister, and his journal chronicle the milestones that guide us through the story.
The next day, Mister takes Masao back to the track, ridiculously believing Masao to be some kind of genius. When Masao can't seem to duplicate his lucky guess of yesterday, Mister becomes angry and returns to his neglect of the boy. But this makes the boy vulnerable to a pedophile who tries to abuse him. Mister rescues Masao just in time and beats up the pedophile-the one violent moment in the movie. It's a scary scene, but serves to catalyze the story in a very powerful way. Out of sympathy and a brand new sense of care, Mister dedicates himself to seeing Masao reunited with his mother (inasmuch as a flaky weirdo can). Their journey begins together and the two characters' arcs head toward a meaningful intersection.
Their first night on the road, Mister checks himself and the boy into a hotel. Mister is a strange sort of loser. He perceives everything in a scientific and reduced way. For example, he doesn't know how to swim, but believes that by mimicking the motions of swimmers, he will be able to jump right in and swim. Instead, he nearly drowns. Mister is scrappy and willing to pull a prank in order to get somewhere. He attempts to live by his wits, but his wits are faulty and the results are predictably inconsistent.
Mister winds up stranding himself and the boy in an unused, remote bus stop for two days. He manages to swindle a passing farmer out of his lunch, but can't seem to get a ride. He plays a blind man stumbling out into the road to try to get a car to stop, but once the car has stopped, Mister gives his sightedness away by noticing the condition of the car. It's one thing after another on the road. The boy pokes along watching Mister do as best as he can.
As the picaresque develops we really begin to feel for the boy and for the man who protects and cares for him. The two meet up eventually with a few more sidekicks that they can camp and play with: a nomadic poet, a peacenik biker, and a skinny punk rocker.
It's a strange film and delightful in its total rejection of time. We lose track of how long the pair have been on the road, and sensitive viewers might even worry: shouldn't the boy be getting home? Yet we remember that he doesn't have anyone to return to, really, and he is being cared for, after all. The two grow close without ever growing sentimental. In fact, they don't exchange names until the very end of the film-once they have returned home and are parting ways.
They do manage to find the boy's mother, but she's not what either of them expect. I won't give this away because the film is really worth watching through. I laughed out loud several times--in genuine mirth--which is a rare accomplishment for a movie, for me. Look for it. Find it. If your video store doesn't have it, request that they get it in. If I may wax politic for just two sentences: Wheedle, cajole, request, threaten, and force your video/DVD source to expand its horizons past the mainstream churn of movies. If they can't expand their horizons, how can you?
©1999 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All rights happily reserved.