When a single mother finds out her estranged ex-husband is dying, she asks her two teenage daughters, Hazuki and Koharu, to visit and take a picture of him on his deathbed and bring it back. Their journey there is as much an emotional one as a physical one as they find out family secrets and gain understanding of the man who abandoned them 14 years prior.
The debut feature from Japanese director Ryota Nakano is a delicate, well-meaning film that does everything in its power to pull at your heart strings, even if that means sacrificing subtlety in the process. Scenes where characters explicitly state their emotions or the shot focuses on tears falling from their face onto the paper they’re holding, all accompanied by tinkling piano on the score, feel very heavy-handed and take away from the film’s more restrained moments and universal messages at its core.
The potentially morbid plot is lifted by some much needed moments of humour which often comes out of family squabbles around the dinner table or awkward encounters surrounding making small talk with barely known extended family. While the gentle, unobtrusive direction by Nakano makes great use of locations, often just letting you sit back and soak in the beautiful open landscapes. This is especially the case when Hazuki and Koharu are escorted from the train station to where their father is by their couldn’t-get-any-cuter little half-brother Chihiro, played by Kaito Kobayashi who absolutely steals the show with his adorably naïve actions, looking for all the world like a Studio Ghibli character come to life.
Unfortunately much of the good location and camera work is largely diminished by the visual style. The film is shot in what looks like ‘90s era digital video and whether this was a conscious stylistic decision or done purely out of budgetary necessity, it unfortunately makes the film come off as cheap rather than achieving any sort of rough-and-ready realism.
That said the film has its heart firmly in the right place and thanks to impressive performances from the likes of Erisa Yanaga and Nanoka Matsubara as the two sisters, conflicted between paying their respects and feeling angry at their abandoning father, and Makiko Watanabe as their hard-working mother help make the often clumsily handled sentiment believable. This is a flawed charmer that explores themes such as familial loyalty, parental responsibility and death viewed through innocent eyes, even if it’s not always in the most subtle of ways.