Genre: Drama, Romance
Year Released: 2008, 2023 US theatrical release
Runtime: 1h 55m
Director(s): Ryûsuke Hamaguchi
Writer(s): Ryûsuke Hamaguchi
Cast: Aoba Kawai, Ryuta Okamoto, Fusako Urabe, Nao Okabe, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Yue
Language: Japanese with English Subtitles
Where To Watch: opening theatrically on April 14 in New York at Lincoln Center and in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Royal, followed by additional markets
RAVING REVIEW: Ryûsuke Hamaguchi's storytelling abilities were shown in his graduation film, PASSION, which also marked his entry into the festival circuit. While his most well-known DRIVE MY CAR (won the 94th annual Academy Award for Best International Picture), I would also have to praise this early sophomore venture. HAPPY HOUR is the only other film I’ve seen that he directed, and it would fall somewhere between the two, but having screened this, I’m curious to check out more of his work now.
Hamaguchi's academic thesis project and the second feature, PASSION, is having its debut theatrical release in the US. The film examines the complexities of love, vulnerability, and relationships among a select group on the verge of the rest of their lives. When Kaho (Aoba Kawai) and Tomoya (Ryuta Okamoto) announce their engagement, Tomoya's past comes to light, and this unravels in a predictable but genuinely captivating way.
Using static shots and extended takes, Hamaguchi employs a narrative style to create a simple, complex world. The film reveals his interest in romantic interactions and the issues that result in them, as well as a more profound look at these unique characters and a keen interest in his generation's social conventions. Characters will leave you wanting to know more about them.
PASSION looks into the murkier aspects of human emotions, peeling away the “fake” outer shell that obscures our perceptions. Hamaguchi masterfully creates change in the movie's tone through emotionally charged scenes, ensuring the truth doesn't overshadow the narrative. If you’ve seen DRIVE MY CAR, you can tell that his style has both matured and stayed the same over time.
It’s interesting to go back and watch a film from a director you didn’t know much about. Especially when you discover them later in their career; as mentioned above, I can’t wait to venture deeper into his filmography and see how many nuanced techniques I see in these films have been carried into his other creations.
In summary, PASSION is a tribute to Ryûsuke Hamaguchi's talent and filmmaking vision. Though not as polished as some of his other creations, it is still a powerful early attempt that hints at his creative potential. Hamaguchi's understanding of human relationships, emotional vulnerability, and storytelling ability has solidified his status as a compelling and influential figure in contemporary cinema.
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[photo courtesy of FILM MOVEMENT]