I love films that just dive right in the story and start with the central character, and the viewer, in a state of confusion, only allow things to start to make sense only much later. In this sense, Naomi Kawase is one of my favorite directors, and Nanayomachi is one of her best. The problem was it was just a little too short on details and back story, leaving me wondering what was going on most of the time. This was not helped by the fact that key moments of the film are in French, which I understand just a bit, and Thai, which I don’t understand at all, and when I watched this at a friend’s house we could not figure out how to get the subtitles to display.
It starts with a sweaty Japanese tourist (Kyoko Hasegawa) walking around the station trying to find someone who can give her directions to the hotel she is staying at. She doesn’t display much effort or proficiency in English, not to mention the local language, and decides to give up and hop in a taxi that is being vacated by a Thai girl and her argumentative British boyfriend. When they arrive at a secluded, wooded area, she thinks the driver is going to attack her and runs away. It turns out that he has actually taken her to her hotel and is the brother of the owner, a Thai woman who runs it as a massage retreat. She continues to be confused and troubled for most of the film, although she has come to Thailand for a week to relax. She does bond with the young son of the massage instructor, who is thinking of sending him to the local temple to be raised.
There are brief flashbacks which show the woman in happier times, receiving a sensual massage from a man who is credit on IMDB as “good-looking monk.” But these are just flashes with no further explanation. Although the good-looking monk apparently introduced her to massage, things evidently did not go well, for when she is asked how things are in Japan, she bursts out in tears. The pacing is slow and meditative, as it is in all of Kawase’s films. Kawase’s camera often lingers over the bodies of her actresses, and the fact that she is using a famous, and voluptuous Japanese actress in an uncharacteristic role, makes the story sensual, but it never goes beyond that. The very scant story could have done with a bit more depth.