Wandering Home (Japan, 2010)

Wandering Home (a.k.a. Walking Home, at least at IMDb) joins a number of outstanding movies concerned with substance addiction, such as The Man with the Golden Arm (1955, drug addiction) and The Lost Weekend (1945, alcoholism). Sensitively directed by Yoichi Higashi (who wrote the screenplay based on a novel by Reiko Saibara), it tells the tale of Yasuyuki Tsukahara (Tadanobu Asano, looking nothing like Kakihara, the character he played in Takashi Miike’s Ichi the Killer), a man in his late thirties, perhaps early forties, who is drinking himself into an early grave.

The film opens in a restaurant where a large group of young people are enjoying food, drink, and one another’s company. A bit away from this group sits a solitary man whose attention is on one of the lovely young women facing in his direction. Using his thumbs and forefingers, he frames her in a rectangle, as a photographer or movie director might. After a moment, he passes out and tumbles on to the floor. Some of the staff, obviously familiar with this routine, come to help get him upright. Assisting them are the man’s family, his wife and children, a son  about eight or nine and a daughter a few years younger. Except the family is not really there; he’s alone, imagining their presence through his alcoholic stupor. Thus we meet Mr. Tsukahara.

We learn that at one time he was indeed a photojournalist, and his experiences documenting death and suffering were contributing factors to his alcohol addiction, as was his father’s own alcoholism. Tsukahara did once have a family: a wife Yuki (Hiromi Nagasaku) and two children, son Hiroshi and daughter Kaoru. But he verbally and physically abused his wife, who divorced him, and now he lives with his widowed mother, who teaches flower arrangement.

After returning to his mother’s home from the restaurant, he proceeds to the bathroom where he spews up a great deal of blood, not for the first time as we subsequently learn. He’s taken to a hospital where he is visited by his wife, who clearly still loves the part of him that is not an alcoholic, and his children, who love him unconditionally but wish he would stop drinking. Repeatedly he’s told by various doctors that his “numbers are so bad” that it’s a wonder he’s still alive.

After getting discharged, he tries to conquer his addiction as an out-patient but fails, and ultimately winds up in the alcoholism ward of a psychiatric hospital for treatment. While the film does address the medical issues and treatment involved, it is primarily devoted to the effects of the disease on addicts and those close to them. The story is perhaps somewhat atypical in that Yasuyuki has remarkably supportive people in his ex-wife, his children, and his mother, all of whom want desperately for him to overcome his affliction. Also, both he and Yuki are particularly handsome individuals with winning smiles. Nonetheless, the story is entirely believable, and one cannot help but long for a positive outcome.

I’m not about to give away what ultimately happens, but I will say that near the end there’s a scene that takes place at the shore. As the film cuts from a group of individuals near the water to a person on a low rise, probably a dune, the effect is disorienting, since at first it isn’t clear how that person could have gotten there. With some shot/reverse shot cuts and a cut back to the shoreline, it suddenly becomes clear what’s going on. It “got a bit dusty” in my apartment as I watched this scene play out on a DVD screener, and it has gotten dusty every time I’ve thought about it, as I am now. It’s an honestly earned emotional response from a film that addresses it’s subject with clarity, caring and concern.

Wandering Home is a touching, heartfelt adult drama, filled with love and humanity. It will be shown on Thursday, July 21st at 9:00 PM at Japan Society, NYC. This screening, part of Japan Cuts 2011: The New York Festival of Contemporary Japanese Cinema, will mark the film’s North American Premiere. For tickets, click here.

The film will also be shown on Saturday, July 23rd at 8:00 at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto as part of the 3rd Shinsedai Cinema Festival.  Tickets for this screening can be purchased here.