Movie Review: His Lost Name (夜明け)

The apple seems to have fallen quite far from the tree in Nanako Hirose’s/広瀬奈々子 debut feature, HIS LOST NAME. The assistant to one of Japan’s most celebrated filmmakers, Hirokazu Kore-eda/是枝裕和, Hirose either missed learning some of her mentor’s key lessons or she’s still too green to be sitting behind the camera. Let’s assume it’s the latter.

Tetsuro (Kaoru Kobayashi/小林薫, MIDNIGHT DINER 2) is a middle-aged man living in a small town somewhere in central Japan. While walking near the river one chilly winter day, he spots a young man (Yuya Yagira/柳楽優弥) lying unconscious near the cold water. He takes the stranger home and nurses him back to health. The young man tells Tetsuro that his name is Shinichi, which just so happens to be the same name as Tetsuro’s son who died along with his wife in a car accident a few years earlier. Tetsuro gives Shinichi a job in his furniture workshop and the young man begins to fit in with his benefactor and his colleagues. But Shinichi isn’t his real name and his being in this small town is no accident.

HIS LOST NAME has the potential to be a crack mystery-thriller as the audience tries to figure out Shinichi’s backstory before the blood starts flying, but that doesn’t happen and we’re left thinking that this is a story about redemption instead. Shinichi wants a second chance at life and Tetsuro wants a second chance to make things right with his son. But that doesn’t happen either. No, this is a story about… a young man who can’t seem to do anything right? Whatever the story is supposed to be about, it doesn’t make for compelling viewing. Compounding the film’s muddled message is Yagira’s performance that is as wooden as the tables he and his colleagues at the shop are building. Watching him here, it’s hard to believe that he won the Best Actor award at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival for his debut film performance in Kore-eda’s (Nobody Knows/誰も知らない). Perhaps it’s the film’s glaring plot hole that’s the problem. The townspeople seem to be suffering from collective amnesia. A fairly major event involving Shinichi happened there a few years earlier yet no one seems to remember it very clearly. Making the premise even more head-scratching is that no one there has ever heard of the Internet even though they all have smart new mobile phones. Although one peripheral character vaguely remembers the incident, neither Tetsuro nor his staff bothers to do some very simple online research on the stranger in their midst. If they had, they would know who Shinichi is and what his story is.

To the film’s credit, there are a couple of good performances, particularly from Kobayashi (although I far preferred him in the MIDNIGHT DINER series) and J-rapper, Young Dais. The rest of the film is a complete dud. Perhaps even the film’s distributor knows that because it’s being counter-programmed opposite AVENGERS: ENDGAME. It won’t stand a chance at the box office and will head to the streaming services in a week or two.

HIS LOST NAME could have been interesting with a better story and a more experienced director. You can safely skip this one and still sleep at night.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Thursday, April 25th at 8:30 am HK time!

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