Director Takuya Misawa is clearly a cinephile, and his directorial debut, “Chigasaki Story,” was a fine selection to follow the tribute to Japanese cinema at the Marrakech Film Festival, as the film’s title is a direct reference to the legendary Yasujiro Ozu’s “Tokyo Story.” There is even direct reference to the auteur, as the seaside resort where the film takes place is described as the location where Ozu would hole up to do his writing. And because it takes place in a hotel, it’s impossible to not draw comparison to Renoir’s “La Règle du Jeu,” and the associations don’t stop at the location: the film is rife with make ups, break ups, miscommunications and misunderstandings among the denizens.
Risa (Natsuko Hori) has taken up temporary residence in the casual inn in order to prep for her wedding celebration (the groom is en route). Her work pals Karin (Ena Koshino) and Maki (Kiki Sugino) arrive in short order, the two complete opposites (Karin is ditzy and sexy, while Maki is tightly wound). Also at the hotel are a group of students on a research trip, and hapless, nerdy worker Tomoharu (Haya Nakazaki), whose head is set spinning by the attentions of the various ladies.
Of course, relationships quickly crack under the tension of being under one roof, with the trio of friends competing for various attentions and becoming annoyed with one another, and Tomoharu torn between an admiring student and the flirtations of Karin. To add to the complications, the teacher leading the research trip has a history with Maki, and possibly something going on with the newlywed.
“Chigasaki Story” strives to achieve a sort of arch, quirky tone, somewhere between Wes Anderson and Woody Allen, but it comes off as rather stiff and awkward (for example, Maki’s drunken face-plant in the sand or Tomoharu’s stiff posture and tendency to sprint from place to place). Elements like little dramas play out over ping pong games shot in unbroken lateral wide shots, and reactions performed in a hyper-stylized way lend to the stilted feel of the piece.
Unfortunately, due to the tone and performance style, and because most of the characters aren’t very likable, there’s no investment in any one journey, and therefore the film falls flat. Perhaps it’s lost in translation, but the jokes miss too, and it never executes the quirky rom-com vibe it goes for. Though it ends up sweet, the lead up is sour.
With an obvious respect for its lineage, “Chigasaki Story” may tilt into overly self-conscious territory, but it’s refreshing to see a post-modern, self-referential film that is highly aware of film history. It is definitely of a piece, with a consistent approach throughout. Though not entirely successful, but just the attempt itself is impressive. [B-]