Saturday, September 01, 2007

THE MILKWOMAN: Love Interrupted

THE MILKWOMAN (Drama in Japanese)

Cast: Yuko Tanaka, Ittoku Kishibe, Akiko Nishina and Misako Watanabe
Director: Akira Ogata
Time: 127 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

(pic: Yuko Tanaka & Ittoku Kashibe)
WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? "The Milkwoman" is a simple story about 'love interrupted' set in the scenic city of Nagasaki, Japan. Besides the engaging tale about a milk delivery woman, its subplots about the city's inhabitants are also an integral part of this Japanese movie aimed at the art house crowd.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? At 50, the unmarried Minako Ohba (played by veteran actress Yuko Tanaka) is content to live her life delivering bottles of fresh milk at dawn to houses on the hill slopes of the city. In the afternoons, she works as a check-out cashier at a supermarket. Her evenings are either spent reading at home or with an aunt (Misako Watanabe) and her husband who suffers from Alzheimer's disease.Indeed, Minako's life is so routine and regimented that her supermarket boss asks her if she is a virgin. Through recollections and flashbacks, we discover that as a teenager, Minako was in love with schoolmate Keita Takanashi (Ittoku Kishibe). Their relationship, however, was disrupted by a scandal involving her mother and Keita's father.

Since then, the two refused to even acknowledge each other even though they live in the same area - and she delivers milk to his house daily. Like Minako, Keita also lives a life of routine, caring for his wife Yoko (Akiko Nishina), who is terminally ill, and working at the Bureau of Children's Affairs. A typical highlight of the childless Keita's days is to track down street urchins who steal food from Minako's supermarket. Knowing that her days are numbered, the invalid Yoko, who has learnt about her husband's teenage romance, tries to reunite the former lovers. According to Yoko, it is the least she could do for Keita so that he won't be alone when she is gone. However, getting the two together is more of a problem than Yoko has imagined. Minako believes that it is her fate to be single. Can she defy Fate?

HIGHS & LOWS: Director Akira Ogata unfolds the story at a snail's pace, taking his own sweet time to introduce his colourful characters and even provide insights to life in the scenic town. This is fine, given that Tanaka has fleshed Minako out to be so charismatic and enigmatic that we are eager to learn more about her. Our hearts cry out for Keita too, especially when he weeps over the fate of a pair of siblings that he had to separate from their drug-addict mother. Other subplots deal with the lives of the growing middle-aged population of Japan and how they cope with the challenges.With many emotive close-ups of the faces of the lead stars, "The Milkwoman" is a tale about how Fate can deal a severe blow to lovers. Now, do we dare interpret the smile on Keita's face (at the end of the movie) as his 'victory' over Fate?

THE LOWDOWN: This 2005 drama, which is a part of this year's Japanese Film Festival in Malaysia, should be a refreshing change for those who are tired of the formulaic Hollywood fare in the cinemas today.


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