As the former assistant and protégé of the great Hirokazu Koreeda, Nanako Hirose has made a debut film that unsurprisingly doesn’t stray too far from Koreeda’s own mode of domestic drama. His Lost Name tells the story of an aging carpenter, Tetsuro (Kaoru Kobayashi), who takes in a shy, unassuming homeless man named Shinichi (Yuya Yagira). Hirose means to engage with paternal themes here, as suggested by the bond shared between Tetsuro and Shinichi, and the complications which arise from their secret emotional histories. But her film is awfully slow, and it’s beset with too many scenes designed to telegraph unspoken feelings between the two men — scenes that are actually rather inert, and so unhelpful in this regard. It’s not that the actors don’t have chemistry, per say, just that the dialogue in their exchanges tends to feel, alternately, too tentative or too forced.
To Hirose’s credit, the director still manages to create ambiguity with regard to the pair’s gradually-forming interdependence, to the point where we aren’t always quite sure who is more reliant upon the other. One of the most trenchant (if hardly revelatory) observations gleaned from His Lost Name is the way in which the film shows how we artificially replace relationships, using people as placeholders for the sake of our own happiness. However, the most impressive and complete element here is the performance of Yagira — a breakout, Best Actor winner at Cannes 15 years ago for Koreeda’s Nobody Knows, and who should be better known outside of Japan than he is. The actor is fully committed to unpacking Shinuchi’s tortured, post-trauma psyche, giving a performance that deserves a better film than this. His Last Name‘s abrupt epiphany of a finale reinforces the sense that Hirose has been straining to hit emotional beats she can’t quite nail, and while there is admittedly something manifestly encouraging in at least what she’s attempted with her first foray into feature filmmaking, ultimately, this debut feels unsure of itself and fatally underdeveloped.
Published as part of Japan Cuts 2019 | Dispatch 1.