How entertaining? ★★★★☆
Thought provoking? ★★☆☆☆
2 October 2011
This a movie review of SAWAKO DECIDES.
On the surface Sawako Decides seems like a fluffily entertaining quarter-life crisis for a pretty Japanese 20-something, but look closer and it is a quietly clever liberal treatise on capitalism, the environment, community and relationships. It skirts through these topics, preventing the film from being profound, but it is at least asking questions, and not providing pat answers. We are in Garden State territory, though eschewing the trite being-on-drugs youth metaphor; there is rather someone whose self-confidence has taken a bit of a beating by her circumstances and choices – referring to herself as a “lower-middling woman”.
Sawako (Hikari Mitsushima) is also a bit of an alchy, plowing through tins of beer every night. Her boyfriend, Kenichi (Masashi Endo) is a wet blanket – a divorcee with a young child, Kayoko, who is uninterested in bonding with Sawako’s half-hearted baby talk conversational style. Her boss is a douche, obnoxious and humiliating. The catalyst for change, which we do want for her, is a call from an uncle; her estranged father is dying, someone she’s not seen or spoken to in five years. Sawako quits her job and heads to the beautiful countryside to save her family’s business, with her pseudo-family in tow.
The film could be viewed as a catalogue of Sawako’s continued embarrassments while we wait for her to hopefully grow a backbone. Her personality might frustrate some, but I found her winsome in a weird way. She is not neurotic, as you might expect, or self-absorbed, instead sort of resigned. Obviously unhappy, because she is unfulfilled – she admits she has “no real dreams or aspirations”. Had Sawako Decides gone down the rom-com path it might’ve ended up generic, but as it seems to be more of a character study it turns out to have a refreshing quirky charm.