I was really impressed by the Japanese movie Birthright when I saw it at the last Tokyo International Film Festival. Far too many contemporary Japanese films, especially those with young actors, little more than sentimental fluff. Birthright, a film focusing almost solely on a high school student and a woman in her early 20s, was both shocking and thought-provoking. I also thought the lead actress, Sayoko Oho, can actually act, unlike most of the countless famous people of her generation in Japan who only want to look cute and be famous. Interested in seeing her in something else, I found out about this film but had look to find a copy of it, finally finding it on an online auction.
Unless they are truly epics, films should fall into the 90 to 95 minute range. Most of those that are long have sections that could and should be cut out and little would be lost. The Summer of Stickleback is a film that is slightly longer, 106 minutes, and it feels justified. The pace of the shots and editing is slow, and seems connected to the natural body rhythm of both the director and the main character, who is youthfully stubborn and slow to accept change. The film starts with 17-year-old Mizuho entering the last summer of her high school years. She is not sure what she wants to do with her life, but is taking swimming lessons from the captain of the swim team, whom she has a crush on. Her mother is an amateur singer who joins jam sessions at local Kyoto bars, and drinks too much after. Her father, who has left the family to live with another woman who has a baby of her own, is distant, but gives her a gift of a bag of stickleback fish to add to her aquarium. She reads that they have a life cycle of just one year, and this sets the time frame of the film. The rest of the film is not anti-dramatic, as Mizuho’s life is completely changed by a chance occurrence, but things happen in their own time.