The film’s title ASAKO I & II may be misleading. It implies two chapters or two films entitled ASAKO 1 and ASAKO II, which is what I thought. But the film is about two different characters in the love life of Asako. Both are played by the same actor, Masahiro Higashide.
The plot can be summarized in one line: One day Asako’s first love suddenly disappears. Two years later, she meets his perfect double.
When the film opens, Asako and Baku meet for the first time, love at first sight style. They kiss compassionately and begin a relationship. They have another couple as friends, who turn up at the end of the film. One evening while Baku goes out to get food, he does not return till the next morning to Asako’s dismay. But she is glad when he is returns. As they hug the voiceover announces that Baku will do his disappearing act again when he goes out to get shoes, this time never to return. Asako moves to Tokyo where she meets his look alike though a different person. Ryohei and Asako begin a relationship. They grow strong as a couple till the inevitable happens. Baku, now a male model and famous personality appears again in Asako’s life. No more of the story should be revealed at this point of the review.
The film has been described in the press notes as a story of love initiation at the edge of fantasy and a reflection on the importance of first love in post-Fukushima Japan.
Director Hamaguchi (HAPPY HOUR) also displays his serious side in one of the film’s more engrossing segments. After watching Maya’s performance on a Chekov play on TV, there is a debate on her performance from cheap and praise seeking to earnest and moving. One member brutally criticizes her performance while giving a false pretext to leave the gathering before being brought to his senses.
The young actors are believable. It is interesting to see actors in Hollywood movies compared to their Asian counterparts. The male actors here are not buffed or muscle bound but slim and looking much still like teens. Higashide does well playing two different roles, the audience differentiating the two characters from their haircuts.
The film covers several genres like teen first love, coming-of-age, corporate business, mystery and friendship. The film’s lightness in tone, however leads to a weak narrative meaning that a lot of issues are left hanging. It does pick up during the last 15 minutes as director Hamaguchi tightens the pace and story. A little patience is required in a somewhat initial rocky and frustrating start. The weird music heard of the soundtrack supports the film’s feel.
The film was selected in official competition at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival and presented at the last Vancouver International Film Festival, the feature film is an adaptation of the best-selling novel of the same name by Japanese author Tomoka Shibasaki.