Dog in a Sidecar Review
Director: Negishi Kichitaro
Starring: Yuko Takeuchi, Arata Furuta, Hana Matsumoto, Mimura, Sawa Suzuki
Facing difficulties at work, 30 year old Kaoru (Mimura) reflects on her life, particularly to a memorable summer when she was 10. At the beginning of her summer break, her mother (Suzuki) packs up and leaves home. Unsure about how to feel, Kaoru remains a fairly cheerful albeit unsure little girl. In short order, she meets Yoko (Takeuchi), her father’s new girlfriend and a bit of a wild spirit. Bonding to a degree she never would have believed, her summer is a great one, filled with memories and important lessons.
A movie that somehow slipped by me despite the bevy of talent that I love, Yuko Takeuchi in particular, this 2007 film is a sweet, intimate coming of age picture that has an enormous amount of charm and warmth despite the surprisingly short running time (94 minutes). Prolific director Negishi, whose only other film I’ve seen is the seminal 80’s drama Detective Story, crafts a well paced and balanced picture that rarely wastes time but chooses to linger on important moments at a good measure. Utilizing a populist style that fans of 80s cinema with appreciate, Negishi pulls out good performances from his veteran talents and that of the excellent newcomer Hana Matsumoto who plays the young Kaoru.
Matsumoto’s Kaoru is quiet and timid, unsure of herself and unprepared for the 180 degree change from her uptight mother to the easy-going and my paced Yoko. The degree of development for Kaoru is admirable, her facial expressions and body language are evocative showcasing high potential for Matsumoto as an actress and young talent. Takeuchi’s Yoko is absolutely lovely as the very real and somewhat willful surrogate mother of sorts. The friendship developed by the two is both natural and believable; it’s easy to become immersed in the seemingly passe things they do like learning how to ride a bicycle.
The supporting cast is quite good with good turns by Furuta as Kaoru’s father, Sawa Suzuki as her mother, and the wonderful Kirin Kiki as a beachside grandmother-type who steals her scene. While the focus of the film is squarely on the relationship between Kaoru and Yoko, the interludes featuring the extended cast gel nicely with the story being told. Mimura, who bookends the film as well provides narration is solid if a bit overshadowed by the talented onscreen duo of Matsumoto and Takeuchi.
In the end, Dog in a Sidecar was a wonderful surprise of a Japanese drama. With nicely engaging performances and classically directed drama, it’s a very satisfying film. While it perhaps lacks that little something to make it stand out as an exemplary film, it’s a truly solid production that is more than worth a watch.