Movie Review: Wandering (aka The Wandering Moon)/流浪の月

If you know anything about the Japanese, you know they have curious sexual quirks. From the vending machines that dispense used schoolgirl panties to hundreds of erotic manga publications, very little is taboo there. It would seem with the film WANDERING, pedophilia is okay too as long as the pedophile isn’t a sexual abuser.

WANDERING opens in a park on a rainy afternoon. Ten-year-old, Sarasa (Tamaki Shiratori/白鳥玉季) sits on a bench with her schoolbook open. Realising that she doesn’t want to go home, 19-year-old university student, Fumi (Tori Matsuzaka/松坂桃李), offers to share his umbrella with her and asks her if she wants to come home with him. Sarasa agrees and the pair go to Fumi’s flat where she spends the next two months in peace and safety until the police catch up with them. Fumi is arrested for kidnapping and Sarasa reluctantly returns to her home. Now, 15 years later, Sarasa (now played by Suzu Hirose/広瀬すず) is living with Ryo (Ryusei Yokohama/横浜流星), her salaryman boyfriend and working part-time in a diner. By chance, she runs into Fumi again and their meeting rekindles the happiness they had in each other’s company. But neither Ryo nor the Internet wants the pair to be together.

There’s a lot that’s good about WANDERING and there’s a lot that’s, quite frankly, problematic. Based on the hugely popular, “Rurou no Tsuki” (流浪の月) by Yuu Nagira/凪良ゆう, the novel was the winner of 17th Japan Booksellers’ Award in 2020. Like most film adaptations, WANDERING struggles to cover the 355-page story succinctly. Adapted for the screen and directed by Sang-il Lee/李相日, the film is a bum-numbing 2-1/2 hours long as Lee chooses to keep the camera running long after he should have yelled, “Cut!”. Do we really need to hear an Edgar Allen Poe poem in its entirety? Yes, I know the story is called “The Wandering Moon” but how many shots of the moon are necessary for audiences to get the point? Maybe it’s my Western bias but this film would have been a lot more interesting if it were about 45 minutes shorter. Fortunately, the camerawork by acclaimed South Korean cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo/홍경표 (PARASITE; SNOWPIERCER) is impeccable so those extended scenes are at least pretty to look at.

Where WANDERING really doesn’t work is the pedophilia angle. Sure, Fumi is a nice guy who never did any physical harm to Sarasa but what about his morals? You just don’t take a 10-year-old girl away from her home even if that home is as dysfunctional as Sarasa’s was. Yet Nagira and Lee want audiences to feel sorry for Fumi and to understand his motivations, which become somewhat apparent in the film’s closing scene. (I would still question whether his situation gives him a pass for being a pedophile.) It’s Sarasa, though, who is the one who is truly messed up. As an adult, she makes some really bad choices, not just with Fumi and Ryo but with her friend’s daughter, too. Most strangely, when she could come to Fumi’s aid, she doesn’t… multiple times.

WANDERING opens in Hong Kong’s cinemas next Thursday (October 6). It’s also rolling out now across other markets in the region. While Asian audiences will probably find Fumi and Sarasa to be sympathetic characters, Western audiences may feel very differently. I know this Westerner does.

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