Dorky Shiina (Gaku Hamada) has just made the move from Tokyo to Sendai to begin university and almost immediately gets wrapped up in the hijinx of his oddball neighbour, Kawasaki (Eita). Both characters share an admiration for Bob Dylan and seem to possess the same wariness that comes with being an outsider. We listen in on them as they talk mundanely about girls, the merits of Dylan’s Blowin’ in The Wind and their past. Next thing you know, Kawasaki coerces Shiina into helping him out with a bookstore robbery. In the history of cinematic heists, this one takes the cake for being the quirkiest. Instead of money, the cool Kawasaki has his mindset on stealing um…a dictionary. A kanji dictionary to be exact, so that his Butanese neighbour can look up the meaning of Foreign Duck and Native Duck. Along the way, we get flashbacks of each character and things just get even more bizarre from there. We are introduced to Dorje the Butanese neighbour and his girlfriend Kotomi, who also happens to be Kawasaki’s ex. All of this sounds nonsensical and terribly convoluted, but in this intricately plotted movie, everything adds up.
Just trying to follow the plot details of this movie will make your head explode. It’s unusually talky and takes it time to really get going. The jumbled timeline is disorienting at times and the things that the characters spew aren’t always that interesting. But what does keep your attention is watching how skilfully director Yoshihiro Nakamura switches tone and even genre midway but manages to keep the core of the movie intact. The movie starts off as a heartfelt coming of age story that slowly morphs into a melodrama about love and loss and then the third act kicks in and a twist is revealed that sets the movie off into another direction. All of it is intriguing to watch and each plot detail adds to the grand scheme of the movie.
The script is certainly flawed, but the actors do their best to mask it with their commitment to the material. Gaku Hamada as the socially inept Shiina does a great job in conveying his character’s awkwardness with his deadpan demeanour. Megumi Seki as Kotomi is suitably serene and makes for the ideal dream girl. Even Ryuhei Matsuda manages to be captivating with his limited screen time. But, the actor that stands out the most is Eita. He shows he’s game for anything and is surprisingly deft at capturing the duality of Kawasaki. He’s good at playing cool and charismatic but even better at playing the fish out of water with a wide-eye wonderment for everything around him.
The bottom line is, Foreign Duck, Native Duck and God in the Coin Locker is a charming little film that’s at times too in love with its oddball premise. Even the final twist seems to be distracting and almost eclipses the emotional core of the story. With that said though, the movie still manages to be a moving and engaging watch. And if anything, it serves as a reminder that Yoshihiro Nakamura is a gifted filmmaker whose movies are always going to be high on any cinephile’s watch list.
David Lam is many things. Playwright, film sponge, casual blogger, illustrator, photographer and overall purveyor of excellence. He spent many years in a Buddhist monastery where he mastered the art of the one finger handstand. He and Haruki Murakami are good friends and are often spotted running together. He occasionally writes for the Toronto JFilm Pow-Wow and Exiled Film Reviews.