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Where EAST meets the Northwest

TOKYO DREAMS. In Hitoshi Yazakiís Strawberry Shortcakes, four very different women search for love and God on the streets of modern Tokyo in a film that meshes elements of Sex and the City with Donnie Darko. The film screens Saturday, October 25 as part of the Japanese Currents series, presented by the Japan-America Society of Oregon and the Northwest Film Center. (Photo courtesy of Kanda Mitsue/UPLINK)

From The Asian Reporter, V18, #42 (October 21, 2008), page 16.

A story of four women thatís observant, tragic, and somehow hopeful

Strawberry Shortcakes

Directed by Hitoshi Yazaki

Distributed by Kanda Mitsue/UPLINK

By Toni Tabora-Roberts

Hitoshi Yazakiís 2006 Strawberry Shortcakes brings an interesting perspective and style to the familiar story of women searching for love and connection in the big city. It was written by Kyoko Inukai and based on a manga by Kiriko Nananan.

Set in contemporary Tokyo, the film feels a bit like an edgy, quirky, gritty Japanese Sex and the City meets Donnie Darko. Yes, comparisons can be annoying (donít let that be a deterrent if youíre not a Sex and the City or Donnie Darko fan) but useful, and the connections will hopefully be made.

Strawberry Shortcakes follows four very different women. (Impossible not to draw the Sex and the City reference, no? Okay, they are not all best friends, but they are four women living in Tokyo and there is a good deal of sex involved.) The plot unfolds parallel stories about two loosely connected pairs of women. Tokyo serves as a character of sorts, displaying a cold and lonely place.

The first pair is Satoko and Akiyo, who work at an escort service. Satoko is the cheerful receptionist who wants to fall in love and Akiyo is a brooding, slightly aging call girl.

On the other end of the spectrum are Chihiro and Toko. They are roommates, but donít have much in common. Chihiro is the classic diligent office worker who longs to be married. Toko is a bit more complicated. She works as an artist and spends a lot of time torturing herself in one way or another.

Each woman has had bad luck with relationships. In the opening of the film, Satoko is pathetically (and literally) dumped on the street by a rocker boyfriend. Chihiro gets involved with a man who, it turns out, is not the kind of man she hoped for. Akiyo is in love with an old college pal who has no idea how she feels. Toko has her own secret pain, finding out her recent ex has just gotten married.

Along with looking for love, another theme that bubbles up is a search for God. Each woman interprets that search in her own eccentric way. This is the part that reminds a bit of Donnie Darko. The approach to the topic is somehow simultaneously fluffy, offbeat, and despondent.

The film is a slow discovery. Dialogue is minimal and the camera work is unobtrusive and observant. Yazaki seems to capture everyday reality in all its uncomfortable and tedious glory. Despite the unhurried pace, at more than two hours the film never drags. The character arcs, while subtle, are palpable. At the end of the film, each woman has grown from her former self.

Though much of the film is rather depressing and seemingly irreparable, somehow light seems to glimmer through. Each of these women becomes a rich, endearing character. And, despite the unfriendly urban landscape, they each manage to make a genuine connection, unlocking them from their accustomed isolation.

The film screens this weekend as part of Japanese Currents, a series of films highlighting contemporary independent Japanese filmmaking. All films are shown at the Northwest Film Centerís Whitsell Auditorium at the Portland Art Museum, 1219 S.W. Park Avenue. Strawberry Shortcakes is featured Saturday, October 25 at 6:30pm. To learn more, call (503) 221-1156 or visit <www.nwfilm.org>.