Melancholic (メランコリック) – Film Review

With the Japanese film festival still going strong and demonstrating the creativity of the Japanese film industry, my next assignment brought me to Seiji Tanaka’s crime drama, Melancholic.

Melancholic follows the story of Kazuhiko Nabeoka (Yoji Minagawa), an unemployed university graduate that still lives at home with his parents. Not having a clue of what his future will look like or any sense of direction, by some luck Kazuhiko lands himself a job at a local bath house. Little does he know that he has just stepped into the world of the Yakuza and will soon find out that this bath house is used for more than just bathing.

What I really enjoyed about this film was the narrative concept of using the bath house as a cover for Yakuza activity. Crime dramas are a favourite of mine, however, I felt that the film genre was more drama than crime. It almost, in a way, felt heavily diluted because there were small amounts of crime on-screen and weak moments of suspense, or lack thereof. Even Minagawa’s character felt out of place. I felt that the world around him was way too kind, and the representation of the Yakuza was a little too lenient towards Kazuhiko.

Don’t get me wrong the short burst of brutality was eye catching, as well as the mild fight scenes, however, I personally felt that the film could have been more effective had it been in a more darker tone to explore and show why the Yakuza are heavily feared in Japan. I just didn’t connect to the story nor did I feel the fear and suspense, as much as I wanted to.

The representation of each character is talentedly displayed and I really enjoyed watching the awkward chemistry between Kazuhiko (Yoji Minagawa) and Yuri (Mebuki Yoshida) as he tried to establish a romantic relationship with her. It was so offkey yet adorable to watch. Another interesting relationship was between Kazuhiko and another bath house worker Akira (Yoshitomo Isozaki), who is secretly a Yakuza hitman. With Kazuhiko not having any close friends, their friendship is surprisingly warm and entertaining to watch. I felt there was little character development and that all remained the same from start to finish, however, I believe that this was purposefully done to mainly focus on Kazuhiko transitioning from being someone with no purpose, to gaining a purpose in life.

The film did an exceptional job of orchestrating that you cannot live a normal life once you have ties to the Yakuza. You’re always looking behind your shoulder, and your family and those you love will always be in danger. However, as mentioned before, it was heavily diluted so we didn’t get to explore that darker side of how families are affected, which would have been good to see if it had been explored more.

Overall, I did enjoy Melancholic for what it was it was. The film was enjoyable with a great cast, heartwarming characters, an awkward main character, Yakuza themes and an interesting and somewhat engaging narrative. Yes, the tones could have been darker, but Melancholic is an interesting journey to follow nonetheless.

Melancholic is part of the 2019 Japanese Film Festival.
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