Honda (Gaku Imamura) is a silent man, who spends his days working at a small electronics company, and walking his dog Ringo. When Paul McCartney’s tour hits Tokyo, Honda finds himself on the road to the concert, accompanied by his over-talkative colleague Hirayama (director Hirobumi Watanabe).
The Tokyo International Film Festival, with its Japanese Splash competition series for young, emerging directors has, during its last four editions, has introduced the Watanabe Brothers to friends of Japanese indie cinema. This started with And the Mud Ship Sails Away (2013), which had audiences giggling with the odd humor, resembling that of Aki Kaurismäki’s silent characters, and situational humor. It continued with the simple and sombre 7 Days (2014), a depiction of the day-to-day routine of a farm helper. Now, director Hirobumi Watanabi, along with regular collaborators music director/producer brother Yuji Watanabe and Korean cinematographer Bang Woohyun, have created their fourth feature Party ’Round the Globe. Also familiar is main actor Imamura, who played the main role in the 2016 Japanese Splash-winning film Poolsideman.
Party ‘Round the Globe is remarkably happier than the dark Poolsideman or 7 Days. The director commented at his 2017 Tokyo International Film Festival Q&A, how he consciously wanted to make a film with a similar theme and structure, but appealing to a wider audience. “My brother’s little piano students could not go to see the previous films, but this they can”, said Watanabe. Also new to the black-and-white shooting style is the beginning sequence, a story narrated in voice-over by a child, with footage of children’s drawing in color.
As in the earlier films, the concept of physical labor is an important theme of the film. Watanabe has depicted farm work in 7 Days, and working at a municipal pool in Poolsideman. This time many scenes were shot inside of a Tochigi based small electronic factory, one of the numerous small businesses, who subcontract for big name electronics industry in Japan. In this working environment, monotony is broken by lunch breaks and continuous talking by a fellow worker Hirayama. Watanabe has found his niche by depicting not the glittering neon lights or trendy cafes of Tokyo that we see in so many Japanese films, but the vast nowhere land outside the metropole, the brothers’ native Tochigi region, some 100 km north of Tokyo. This region is shot in simplistic, but gorgeous long takes with non-moving camera, and accompanied by Yuji Watanabes music, as well as wind and other natural diegetic sounds.
What differs from Watanabe’s previous films is the time structure. Party ‘Round the Globe does not run in continuous time, but has tie-in scenes of a car ride to Tokyo as Honda and his colleague Hirayama go to see Paul McCartney play a gig at the Tokyo Dome. The depiction of the Honda’s daily routine is broken down with scenes from the Tokyo trip. They are simply staged from the same angle: from the front of the two sitting in Honda’s car, on the highway to Tokyo. The scenes juxtapose Honda, who never says a word, and Hirayama, who is having a one-sided conversation, really a monologue about his likings in music. The trip is likely Honda’s first effort in trying to break away from his solemn life.
Also for the first time in Watanabe’s films, there is a flashback/flash forward/dream sequence, which is framed as the dream of the protagonist’s dog. In this scene the dog is walked not by Honda alone, but also a woman and a little girl. Did he have a family before? Or perhaps there are happier times ahead for Honda? Watanabe does not explain, but leaves it up to the viewer to decide the likely answer.
The title of the film refers to Paul McCartney’s global tour, which now comes to Japan. Beatlemania is a concept that touches many generations in Japan, even Watanabe’s. The director was born 1982, so was not even there when The Beatles did come to Japan. But the real party is at the end of the film which features documentary footage of the Watanabe brothers’ grandmother’s 100th birthday party. Their grandmother has appeared in almost all Watanabe’s films, and clearly all Watanabe films are a joint effort by him and his family. This sequence takes the film to the level of documentary, but with Honda character participating, and naturally the director now slipping from his fictional role as Hirayama to being the director Watanabe. The viewer realizes how close this – or any of the Watanabe films – is to the reality of Tochigi.
So nothing much happens, and we don’t get to see Paul McCartney (nor did Watanabe or the DOP either, as they were, according to the director, shooting outside of the venue at the time of the concert). But somehow the good-natured humor, gorgeously non-moving camerawork, respect for hard-working people, and the odd but familiar characters again start slowly biting on the viewer.