Pokey pace cheats "The Harimaya Bridge"

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, September 30, 2010 4:47pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

“The Harimaya Bridge” is mostly in English and made by an American director, Aaron Woolfolk. But the setting is Japan and you might also say there’s something quietly Japanese about the movie’s style.

In other words, the story unfolds in very slow, contemplative strokes, a rhythm that wouldn’t be out of place in a Japanese movie. This is an interesting approach, but … well, let’s get to the “but” later.

A retired San Franciscan, Daniel, has gone to Japan to gather the possessions of his late son. These are no ordinary possessions, but the son’s artworks, which he created while living abroad.

Daniel is played by Ben Guillory, a well-worn character actor. He spends the first half of the film in tight-lipped resentment, as he travels about with local officials and demands the return of his son’s paintings.

His fury comes from loss, but also from the memory of his father’s barbaric treatment at the hands of Japanese captors as a POW during World War II. As a black man traveling in Japan, he has some other issues to deal with, too. Daniel wants to get the stuff and leave, as quickly as possible.

Halfway through the film, a revelation complicates Daniel’s journey; it won’t come as too much of a surprise to viewers, but it certainly throws him for a loop.

There are touching scenes in this section, and as the delicate negotiation between Daniel and his son’s Japanese wife (Saki Takaoka) move along, you might find yourself wishing the film had gotten here a little sooner.

We’re delayed from getting to the film’s emotional core by Daniel’s bad manners as a visitor, which are dealt with by his translator/handler, played by Misa Shimizu (in the most likable performance on view).

Outwaiting Daniel’s bad mood keeps the movie at a distance and makes him unusually exasperating as a protagonist.

Danny Glover, who executive-produced “The Harimaya Bridge,” also plays a small role, worth about 10 minutes of screen time. Otherwise, it’s Ben Guillory’s show, and his casual manner works well enough.

I think the movie’s slowness is meant to compare to a Japanese style, but even so, it’s a pokey film. Without a certain pop to its rhythm, the picture becomes a series of staid scenes laid end-to-end, instead of a story with urgency.

Even the effective final reels can’t pull it into the heart-touching realm the situation deserves.

“The Harimaya Bridge” 2 stars

An American (Ben Guillory) goes to Japan in anger, to collect the paintings left there by his artist son, recently deceased. As the journey goes along it becomes moving toward the end, but unfortunately the film is so slow in unfolding that viewers may be tempted to check out early. In English and Japanese, with English subtitles.

Rated: Not rated; probably PG for subject matter

Showing: Grand Illusion

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