This comedy centers on the “life” of Takashi Hirayama (Kiyohiko Shibukawa), who lives in the small town of Otawara with his elderly grandmother (played to hilarious effect by director Hirobumi Watanabe’s actual 96-year-old grandmother). Nearing middle age, unemployed and with no apparent interest in ever working, Tashashi could be a poster man-child for the inveterate slacker.
Hiromi, Takashi’s ex-wife, detests him for his uselessness and not surprisingly refuses to allow him to see his young daughter, Yoko. His only friend seems to be Shohei (Kaori Iida), with whom he argues over whether Takashi is 36 or 40 years old. Their lives are so empty that sometimes at night they spy on couples having “car sex.”
Takashi, when he’s not napping, is fond of playing pachinko or video games. At one game parlor he is repeatedly approached by a shady character who offers him 600,000 yen (a not inconsiderable sum) to go to South East Asia and “pick up some stuff,” a euphemism for acting as a drug mule.
Takashi’s life gets somewhat complicated with the unexpected arrival of Yuka (Ayasa Takahashi), a young woman from Tokyo. She has come looking for Osama Hirayama, Takashi’s father who died two years ago. She claims that Osama was also her father, making her Takashi’s half-sister.
The film is largely shot in black-and-white, with an Anti-Nuke segment in color. Somewhere a bit past the mid-way point, Takashi goes on a trip and the film seems to shift into another gear entirely. This structure immediately brought to mind Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo (1970), which also abruptly and unexpectedly changes gears, although the films are quite different in nature.
Dry, droll and deadpan, And the Mud Ship Sails Away, is definitely well worth seeing.
And the Mud Ship Sails Away is showing at Japan Society on Saturday July 11 as part of the ninth annual JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film.
The film is also available on UK DVD as part of the New Directors from Japan set from Third Window Films.