Production Company: Seiyu, Ace Pictures
Release: 21 December 1996
Length: 100 minutes
Director: Shinohara Tetsuo
Executive Producers: Hara Masato, Kuroi Kazuo
Producer: Yoshida Kayo
Screenplay: Shinohara Tetsuo, Mashiba Azuki
Original Story: Tsuruma Kaori
Photography: Ueno Shogo
Music: Yamazaki Masayoshi
Editor: Tomita Isao
Hanabi: Yamazaki Masayoshi
Hibana: Sanada Masumi
Rihito: Tsurumi Shingo
Morisaki: Nakamura Kumi
Woman in White Medicine for Troubled Soul
She appears out of nowhere, a white dress standing out in a dim, moonlit field. “Today’s high school girls are pretty strange,” remarks Rihito (Tsurumi Shingo), a character in Shinohara Tetsuo’s first feature film, One More Time, One More Chance. “But she isn’t like them,” he adds, referring to the mysterious girl in white.
Her name is Hibana (Sanada Masumi), which means “spark” in Japanese. In an age when some teenage girls are engaging in “dating for pay” (enjo kosai) with middle-aged sugar daddies, Hibana is so pure and naively innocent that she almost seems out of this world.
Within the film’s story, her virginal character functions as medicine for the soul. Rihito’s friend, Hanabi (Yamazaki Masayoshi), whose name appropriately means “fireworks,” is a hot and temperamental rock singer who suddenly quits his band to start again from scratch. Yet instead of composing songs, he just ends up raising cabbages as a recluse in the countryside. His writer’s block, it seems, also prevents him from forming relationships with other human beings.
That is, until one day, in an abundant green field, he happens upon Hibana, a dance student who lost her bag on the bus. Avoiding involvement, he anonymously gives her 1000 yen and flees. So he is certainly surprised when he runs into her again that night at his farm kilometers away.
Hibana, it turns out, knows where he lived because she is a devoted fan. But she is no fanatical groupie. She may be persistent in resisting his efforts to shoo her away, but her innocent liveliness eventually melts its way into his frozen exterior as the two wander through country fields, listen to the rhythmic sounds of nature, and gaze at the moon (the Japanese title of the film is simply “Moon and Cabbages”).
I won’t give away the ending, but it comes as no surprise that Hibana soon begins to serve as Hanabi’s dancing muse, his healer from nature who inspires in him the urge to write and sing again. The motif of nature as comforter of the soul is common to Shinohara’s earlier award-winning short, Work on the Grass (“Kusa no ue no shigoto,” 1993), a 40-minute work wholly devoted to two individuals working and talking amidst the green expanse of mother earth.
While more ambitious than that film, One More Time is also the brand of miracle love story that we have seen before. One could also cynically say that, given the time allotted to the title song by real-life rock vocalist Yamazaki, the film itself seems to resemble an extended promotional video.
In the end, the film’s predictability is centered on Hibana. In our more perplexing, contemporary reality–one acknowledged by the film itself–she exhibits little breadth, little substance beyond the kind of fantasy image created by older men yearning for a less complicated feminine innocence (her status as an image is reinforced but insufficiently pursued by the film). Her lack of depth ultimately reflects on her patient, Hanabi, the nature of whose illness remains inadequately explored throughout.
But one can say that, paradoxically, it is this very simplicity that saves the film in the end. Shinohara’s steady direction, not inspired but also not overly schmaltzy, is effective in its earnestness, winning us over through sheer persistence.
One More Time is the second production this year (after [Focus]) to come out of the Sapporo Image Seminar, a project for developing new scripts. It is thanks to the resolve and patience of everyone in this production that the film gives us, despite its failings, a heart-warming, old-fashioned love story just one more time.
Reviewed by Aaron Gerow
Originally appeared in The Daily Yomiuri, 19 December 1996, p. 8.
Copyright 1996: The Daily Yomiuri and Aaron Gerow