Man Walking on Snow Movie Review

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Welcome to the end of the world. Mashike, Japan is a forlorn fishing village on the Western coast of Hokkaido where, as in Sarah Palin's Alaska, you can see Russia from your porch. When winter slams into the town, life pretty much stops, and the people turn inwards, finding plenty of time to stew over resentments going back decades.

That's how life is for 65-year-old widower Honma (Ken Ogata), a semi-retired sake maker who lives in a humble house with his younger son Yasuo (Yasufumi Hirashi). Father and son pretty much despise each other and make great sport of hurling insults back and forth, but since Dad needs help with the daily chores of life and the aimless Yasuo needs a place to stay, the two are stuck with each other.

Daily relief for Honma comes in the form of the long walk he takes faithfully every day (we get to see him take it three times in the course of the film) through the snow and past an ice cream shop where, amusingly, he always stops for a cone even in blizzard conditions, to the town's salmon hatchery. There he enjoys inspecting the baby fish as they grow in small containers, watched over by the young and cute Michiko (Sayoko Ishii), a woman Honma isn't afraid to admit he has a crush on. Unfortunately, Michiko reveals her plan to move to Okinawa to be with her boyfriend. "From one end of Japan to the other," she jokes. "Maybe you'd stay if you married me," Honma only half jests.

Back home, Honma starts studying a map of Japan, and he manages to get into a shouting match with Yasuo over the issue of whether Okinawa has winter and whether its mountains are snowcapped or not. The only break in this tedious routine comes when the second anniversary of Honma's wife's death approaches, and he hopes his elder son Ryoichi (Teruyuki Kagawa), will show up for the traditional ceremony.

For his part, Ryoichi, a failed musician with a pregnant girlfriend, is as directionless as his younger brother, and the resentment between the two of them is brutal. Even though Yasuo chooses to live with his father, he demands to know why Ryuichi isn't carrying his share of this annoying burden. Why can't Yasuo run away and try to find himself in Tokyo like Ryuichi did? Why can't Ryuichi take his turn as Dad's caretaker?

I'm a fan of films that take me to a place I know I'll never go and introduce me to people I know I'd never otherwise meet, and Man Walking on Snow certainly fits the bill. What a strange place, and what an odd family, bound together mainly by their ability to hurt each other's feelings and accuse each other of grievous crimes against the family. As the patriarch, Ken Ogata is great. As miserable as his Honma is, he also seems to be enjoying his misery, at least a little bit. I don't think I'll ever forget the weird imagery of him making his way along the snow-blasted streets of his miserable town while an eerily slow electronic version of the French Can-Can song plays on the soundtrack.

Aka Aruku, hito.

Baby it's cold outside.

Cast & Crew

Director : Masahiro Kobayashi

Producer : Masahiro Kobayashi

Starring : , Yasufumi Hirashi, , Sayoko Ishii, Nene Otsuka

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Man Walking on Snow Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: NR, 2001


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