Pandora’s Box: ”When one lives with death breathing down your neck, he finds the faint smile on a flower comforting.”

Directed by Masanori Tominaga

Produced by
Written by Osamu Dazai and Masanori Tominaga
Cast: Shôta Sometani, Mieko Kawakami, Riisa Naka and Yôsuke Kubozuka

A Pandora’s Box is a strange film that looks like a cross between an art house film for its muted colors and a TV movie for its low production values. It’s based on a novel from 1945 by the famed Japanese writer: Osamu Dazai. Taking place in the same year its source material was released; it tells the story of a former Imperial Japanese soldier Risuke suffering from tuberculosis seeking treatment in a nursing home after the Japanese defeat in World War 2. Pandora’s Box is, in essence, a ”slice of life”. Much of its events comes out of the mundaneness of living in a nursing home. Don’t expect any ”over the top” antics; you would come to expect in movies. The entire film never drops its slow pace or its focus on the mundane. The result is that you get a pretty effective ”slice of life”. For those uninterested in a ”slice of life”, it can be quite the tiresome experience. The inner thoughts of the main character are spelled out in quite great detail since the film is narrated through a succession of letters. I wouldn’t be surprised if many lines from the actual novel were in the letters this way. People always speak of the ”show, don’t tell” principle as a negative against narrations in films. That might be a worthy argument but I I been never’ troubled by narrations. Thanks to the narrations, Pandora’s Box does gain a philosophical edge due to being so introspective. Risuke fashions himself a ”New Man”, a man who can live without human sympathy or affection. A strange desire but not completely out of the blue since everyone tends to live under a pseudonym in the clinic to hide their true identity. For Risuke, it’s the name: Hibari( translated as ”Skylark”). It is Hibari’s character interactions with the other characters in the clinic that drive the film. That doesn’t sound too shocking; it’s just that the problem lies in how some of the character interactions function. Either, character interactions have too much nuance that it becomes too confusing or during certain occasions, some interactions run the risk of being almost undeveloped. The others from the cast are a hit and miss is Mabo(Riisa Naka) is a pretty likable flirt, and Take-san(Mieko Kawakami) is a stern nurse without being cold and cruel. But, Hibari’s friend Tsukushi (Yôsuke Kubozuka) is too distant for his own good. Risuke himself floats between being a vulnerable guy and a confrontational hot-head. Though some of the elements could be refined better, there is still a pretty emotional story at its core.

PS: Mieko Kawakami the actress in this film is herself a novelist, funny enough.

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