A New Year's Movie Tradition
Many families have their go-to Christmas movie that they watch annually without ever getting bored. From It’s a Wonder Life to Christmas Vacation and every version of A Christmas Carol in between, it seems there’s a Christmas movie for everyone. In our house, it happens to be A Christmas Story, but that is not what this post is about today. In fact, it’s just a long wind up to discuss our New Year’s movie tradition, watching Koki Mitani's classic Suite Dreams (Uchoten Hotaru).
Even though New Year’s is a far bigger holiday in Japan than Christmas, I suspect that the genre of New Year’s movies is far shallower there than that of Christmas movies on our side of the ocean. Not that it matters since this screwball comedy is scripted, acted, and directed to perfection. Any future directors will be hard pressed to top Suite Dreams in the New Year's category.
The movie features a stellar cast with a handful of actors that may be recognizable to Western audiences with even a passing acquaintance with contemporary Japanese film. Koji Yakusho (Shall We Dance) leads the way as an unflappable hotel manager whose demeanour will be tested on a night where everything goes wrong, including the arrival of his ex-wife. Shiro Ito (A Taxing Woman, Maiko Haaaan!!!) plays the vain hotel president, and Toshiyuki Nishida (Ramen Girl, Beyond Outrage) is a burnt out singer who offers some surprising mentorship to real life SMAP band member Shingo Katori.
The female actors may be less recognizable in the West, but they are no less accomplished. Japanese cinephiles might recall the following cast members: Takako Matsu (Hidden Blade), Ryoko Shinohara (Red Shadow: Akakage), You (Nobody Knows), and Mieko Harada (Ran, Akira Kurosawa's Dreams). In fact, it's the women who either bring most of the comic energy to the movie or serve as its moral centre, with the men playing their foils as much as anything. That said, Mitani carefully ensures that every actor gets their memorable moment.
The movie is jam-packed with dozens of tiny comic incidents (often hidden in the background of extended tracking shots), some of which only reveal themselves after repeated viewings. The twists and turns of the multiple plots interweave until they are wrapped up in a wonderful finale as the clock strikes midnight. Given the nature of screwball comedies, there is guaranteed to be cases of mistaken identity and more coincidences than there are seconds in a Times Square countdown, but they only lead to more laughs as they accumulate over the course of the movie.
So if your family doesn’t have a New Year’s movie yet and you don’t mind subtitles, track down Suite Dreams. Hopefully it grows on you like it has grown on us. If you’re on twitter, let me know your thoughts if you check it out. @travisbelrose