Hebiichigo (2003)

Run Time - 108 min.  |   Countries - Japan  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Josh Ralske

Writer/director Miwa Nishikawa's Wild Berries is a wonderfully assured and original debut. With her first film, Nishikawa demonstrates a fine feel for character, and impressively manages to sustain the film's tricky tone throughout. There's an early dinner scene -- Tomoko (Miho Tsumiki) introduces her effete boyfriend, Kamata (Toru Tezuka), to her parents and her mentally unstable grandfather -- which is a study in drolly understated shared embarrassment. The film's main comic set piece is a funeral scene wherein Nishikawa cuts from genuinely distraught Tomoko to her brother, Shuji (Hiroyuki Miyasako), who seems to be similarly afflicted. It takes a moment to realize that he's doubled over because he's sitting on the toilet, straining, and yet another moment to realize that he's not going to the bathroom, but retrieving some money that he's hidden in an uncomfortable place. This kind of darkly comic revelation is typical of the film. There are times in the film when Nishikawa has characters spell things out that we could probably infer from their actions. But, for the most part, she trusts the audience to see what's beneath the surface. And what makes Wild Berries truly special is the heart that Nishikawa and her fine cast bring to the occasionally twisted material. Naoko Otani and Sei Hiraizumi embody long-suppressed resentment as Tomoko's parents; Miyasako captures the effortless charm and self-involvement of Shuji, while Tsumiki brings humanity to Tomoko's overly rigid sense of truth and honor. In her determination to do what's right, and her certainty that she knows what that is, she's perhaps the most tragic of the film's sad characters.