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Moratorium Tamako

January 17, 2014

The unlikely pairing of a slacker director and idol makes tranquil, charming cinema

Moratorium Tamako (2013)

Nobuhiro Yamashita started his career with minimalist, pitch perfect slacker films such as Ramblers (2003). He later entered mainstream cinema, but never quite lost his indie qualities. Moratorium Tamako is a nice example of Yamashita helming a somewhat mainstream project in his own, recognizable style.

Yamashita’s latest is a very simple film. With a running time of only 78 minutes (lovely!), and most of which is dedicated to the leading girl Atsuko Maeda lying on the floor, playing Playstation, or sleeping, there truly isn’t much melodrama going on. But small details and quiet humour have always been Yamashita’s strength. Moratorium Tamako is no exception.

Yamashita’s love and sympathy for his unlucky protagonists is once again evident in Moratorium Tamako. This is what sets Yamashita apart from some of his rivals, such as the more mean spirited Yuya Ishii, or even Aki Kaurismäki. Yamashita smiles at his characters, but never makes cruel fun of them. He can identify and sympathise with, say, a girl who failed finding a job and now spends her days reading manga and lying on the floor, as in Moratorium Tamako.

With his last two films, Yamashita has found his new heroine in Atsuko Maeda. The unlikely pairing of a slacker director and former AKB 48 idol is actually quite functional. Maeda is surprisingly natural as a lazy, not-into-anything Yamashita heroine, yet retaining her cute looks and easy-going mainstream appeal that just might be what Yamashita needs to get his films financed.

It is, in fact, quite unusual for a Yamashita film to center so strongly around one character (instead of a duo or trio of ill-lucked protagonists). It is perhaps because of this that Moratorium Tamako is an even quieter film than Yamashita’s films in general. That being said, there are two important supporting characters; Tamako’s single father, and a quiet elementary school boy who is an especially Yamashitan character.

Of course, Moratorium Tamako is by no means a match to Yamashita’s unparalleled Osaka era films (Hazy Life, No One’s Ark, Ramblers), but it’s a pleasurable small film. Like all of Yamashita’s films (and unlike most small scale Japanese films these days) the film also looks solid. It was shot on digital, but it has a pleasing, roughly film-like look to it.

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