Sourcing material from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anthony Doerr certainly lends Yoshifumi Tsubota’s second film a certain pedigree—and indeed, The Shell Collector looks as if it may prove an evocative drama of dueling personalities for much of its first half. Unfortunately, awkward tonal shifts, which may have worked on the page, undo a promising start. After a suicidal woman, Izumi (Shinobu Terajima), washes ashore, interrupting the cultivated quiet of his isolated beach cottage, a blind Professor (Lily Franky) rescues her from the waves and learns she is a former artist who has lost the use of her right hand. Later, Izumi is stung by a poisonous cone shell and endures a trippy dreamscape high, from which she awakens to find her ailment miraculously cured. As the Professor’s life is upended, what should have been another 45 minutes of discomfiting character exorcism instead turns to camp and pedantry, as a larger world outside intrudes and disrupts the film’s patient flow. Tsubota still allows for some dazzling shots of coastal beauty and a few welcome surrealist touches, such as the Professor’s recurrent dream of being seated in a chair on the ocean floor, but in the end he sacrifices too much in the name of plot, his vision seen only occasionally as bits of beautiful flotsam.
Published as part of Japan Cuts 2016 | Dispatch 2.