By Aaron Rourke (Melbourne, Australia)
Crafted with care and performed with undeniable skill, The Mohican Comes Home may appear familiar on the surface, but genuinely warm attention to detail makes this a highly enjoyable mix of comedy and drama.
Eikichi Tamura (Ryuhei Matsuda) left his rural hometown in Hiroshima as a teenager, travelling to Tokyo to make it big as a musician. The lead singer of a punk band he’s help put together, we see that they don’t attract much of a crowd. With the group ready to disband, the aimless Eikichi is pushed later that night by his girlfriend Yuka (Atsuko Maeda) to take her on a vacation. Though theme parks are primarily suggested, the two end up taking a boat trip back to his island home, a place he hasn’t visited in several years.
Not bothering to call in advance, his father Osamu (Akira Emote), mother Haruko (Masako Motai), and younger brother Koji (Yudai Chiba), are suitably surprised when this long absent family member suddenly turns up on their doorstep. The surprises keep coming when the two announce that they are thinking of marriage, as Yuka is pregnant. The outspoken Osamu reacts furiously at first, but is soon overcome with happiness as he realises he is going to be a grandfather.
A celebration is organised, but afterwards Osamu collapses, and the medical tests that follow reveal that he has terminal cancer. Feeling obliged to stay, Eikichi, whose relationship with his father has been a rocky one, slowly begins to rebuild that bond, but everyone, including city girl Yuka, start to attain close, emotional ties.
As already stated, on paper this sounds like awfully predictable stuff, but writer/director Shuichi Okita has more on his mind than delivering cheap tears and lazy sentimentality. The difference is that Okita shows a real fondness towards his characters, keeping them natural and believable, constructing a family that not only feel credible, but can resonate with any audience. There are many sequences that ring true, seemingly everyday moments that do add up to produce a thoroughly satisfying journey (the scene where Eikichi and Yuka arrive home late one night while Haruko is watching her beloved baseball team on TV is a lovely example).
Okita has shown in the past that he is interested in exploring complex human connections, in films such as The Chef of South Polar (2009), The Woodsman and the Rain (2012), and the epically intimate A Story of Yonosuke (2013), and this continues his fascination with particular themes and ideas. The oddball, often hilarious humour legitimately arises from the characters’ personal traits and interactions, rather than a contrived quirkiness that seems tacked on.
The location itself is also nicely captured, and specifically the way in which a place can impact on the people who inhabit it. Many too will identify with what it’s like visiting home after a long break.
Performances are excellent. Matsuda, who has built up an impressive body of work since his debut in Nagisa Oshima’s Taboo in 1999, delivers another accomplished turn, and shows once again why he is one of Japan’s most popular contemporary actors. His laconic persona belies an ability to generate a wide range of emotions, a deceptively low-key approach that is frequently affecting. From Blue Spring and Otakus in Love, to Nobody To Watch Over Me and the Nightmare Detective series, Matsuda is always a compelling presence.
Veteran character actor Emote (Villain, 0.5mm) makes the most of a tailor-made role, turning a sometimes abrasive character into someone we can understand and like. Equally fine is Motai (Kamome Diner, Glasses, I Just Didn’t Do It), who is utterly endearing as Haruko, the matriarch who has to keep the household and its inhabitants in order.
Maeda (Tamako In Moratorium, Kabukicho Love Hotel) is delightful as Yuka, and her gradual initiation into Eikichi’s dysfunctional family is touching, never coming across as perfunctory or forced. Chiba (Blue Spring Ride, The Magnificent Nine) as Koji, and Ryouta Koshiba and Miu Tomita as two of Osamu’s music students also deserve special mention.
The Mohican Comes Home puts its characters and their developing importance to each other front-and-centre, with director Okita masterfully imbuing each one with individual flavour and texture. As such, it makes it an absolute pleasure for us to spend two hours getting to know them.