2006 - Japan - 120 minutes
Director and Writer - Miwa Nishikawa
Internet Movie Database User Rating - 7.5/10 - Link to IMDb
My Rating - 4 of 5 Stars

This intriguing film is a combination of a family, psychological, and courtroom drama. It has all the elements that one would experience anywhere in the world except here the viewer has a look at situations with a Japanese sensibility.

Takeru is the younger brother of a provincial family who has left his small town to seek a career in photography in Tokyo. He returns to the family home after several years due to the death of his mother. There he is greeted with disdain by his conservative father and a distant warmth by his older brother, Minoru who has stayed in the small town to carry on the family’s business, a gasoline station.

On the way to his father’s and brother’s home, Takeru sees that his old girlfriend, Chieko is working at his family’s station. He finds that Chieko has been hired by his father as a hopeful match for his older brother.

After an argument with his father, Takeru goes out, meets up with Chieko, and the two eventually have sex. Takeru is ready to return to Tokyo the next morning but his brother convinces him to go with him to a beautiful gorge where their parents used to take them as kids. Minoru has invited Chieko to go along not knowing, of course, that she has had sex with his younger brother just the night before.

Up to this point in the film, the viewer can assume that this is going to be a family drama about the conflict between the two brothers over a woman, but at the gorge Chieko falls from a suspension bridge to her death. The fall is not witnessed by the viewer and, from this point on, is seen in the minds of the brothers. Thus begins the psychological aspect of the film. Later, when older brother, Minoru is charged with murder beginning an intriguing courtroom drama.

It is always interesting to see these elements of drama taking place in another culture because it offers insight into the way they are view in different societies. For me, it was interesting to see how really provincial the family was in the small town. I would have thought that in modern-day Japan that that would not be so. Of course, elements are probably adjusted for the sake of drama, but because this is an award winning film, I would assume that depictions are pretty accurate. Another interesting insight is the trial and courtroom scenes which are so very different from those examples of courtroom scenes in the United States.

The basic elements of the film, however, are common to any culture, and that’s what makes this movie so entertaining. The actors who portray the brothers were both nominated for the Japanese Oscar, and they are really good. The photography is striking, and the only negative I can see is that the editing seems to be a bit choppy, but this, I have found, is a somewhat common element in Asian films. It’s probably that culture thing again. If you are interested in Japanese cinema, this film is one you should see.

Neil Turner
November 1, 2008

English Title: Sway