Asako I & II (Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, 2018)

 
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What’s this all about?

The real Asako (Erika Karata) has a passionate and juvenile love affair with Baku, aka Asako I, played by Masahiro Higashide, but when he disappears without a trace, she starts a relationship with Ryôhei, aka Asako II, who looks like Asako I, and is played by Masahiro Higashide as well. We can tell that our lead character likes a specific type of men.

TWO TYPES OF MEN

Wait a minute. There only one Asako but two lovers?

Asako is torn between two men with different personalities and lifestyles. If Baku, aka Asako I, aka as Masahiro Higashide, would represent the ardent, irrational love, the love at first sight that makes you go wild and unreasonable, then Ryôhei, aka Asako II, aka Masahiro Higashide, symbolises the grounded, intellectual one, the kind of love that’s built over time, and gives you peace of mind and stability. Between the two, Asako chooses Asako I, of course, because we humans are bloody stupid and give the past too much credit.

The dispute between Asako I and Asako II is also about nostalgia because we are obsessed with the past and with everything that's left unfinished. Had Asako I not disappeared, the real Asako would have grown tired of him and his nonchalance within a year. Or less. Had it been an awful break-up, the real Asako would’ve stayed with Asako II and found happiness in conformity.

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Spoiler Area

Asako I comes out of nowhere, takes the real Asako by her hand and they both run away to a new life. This moment is so left-field, it would’ve been a terrific resolution. I was ready to call this a masterpiece, but the movie, adapted from a novel by Tomoka Shibasaki, didn’t want its audience to think this was a happy ending, and that the real Asako got what she wanted by behaving like a ruthless witch. So the real Asako then has to face the consequences, but she suffers them in the most dragging and melodramatic way. The surrealistic moment just doesn't work with the sentimentality that comes afterwards and makes the last thirty minutes a total disappointment.

Asako now needs to regain Asako II’s trust, after all it took them to become a couple. Maybe there’s room for Asako III.

Conclusion

Asako I & II works, for the most time, as a movie about the slow development of love and trust between lovers. So it’s a shame that it derails towards the end, making the story disappointingly sappy. The moment in which Asako visits a sick old friend is cheap and unnecessary.

Erika Karata + Masahiro Higashide - Asako I & II

The moment

Sweethearts on the asphalt.

Recommended for:

Lovers of romance who prefer the sequel over the original.

Some Other Stray observations

  • It’s ironic that when Asako’s friend Okazaki criticises her other friend’s acting, the scene is played in the most theatrical, hammy way. I don’t think Hamaguchi was trying to be meta.

Good companion pieces

People should learn and stop sleeping with their ex’s doppelgängers:

  • Vertigo (1959), directed by Alfred Hitchcock

  • Possession (1981), directed by Andrzej Zulawski

  • Lost Highway (1997), directed by David Lynch

  • Reconstruction (2003), directed by Christoffer Boe

  • L'amant double (2017), directed by François Ozon

  • Friends: The One with Russ episode (1996), directed by Thomas Schlamme

MVP (cast)

Masahiro Higashide, as Asako I, is capable of being mysterious and seductive at the same time. Masahiro Higashide, as Asako II, is quite dreamy and it’s no wonder anyone would fall in love with him. But it’s Sairi Itô, as Asako’s sassy friend, who brings the laughs and sincerity to the story.

MVP (techs)

Yasuyuki Sasaki’s cinematography keeps the dreamy atmosphere throughout its whole runtime.

Art of the title

The real translation would be Waking and Dreaming, which is very oneiric, but Asako I & II is way more playful and engaging.

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Why am I watching this?

  • Surprise addition at the Cannes Film Festival

Audience reaction

The grumpy old man that sat next to me was huffing and puffing at the way through. He left the projection ten minutes before the movie ended. If you’ve already watched an hour and a half of it, why wouldn’t you wait for another ten more minutes?

Plenty of laughs when Ryôhei sends Asako a forgiving text message after she brusquely dumped him, which comes to prove that it’s hard to take everything that comes afterwards seriously.

For Your Consideration

Best Actor: Masahiro Higashide - Best Actor: Masahiro Higashide - Best Supporting Actress: Sairi Itô - Best cinematography: Yasuyuki Sasaki


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Asako I & II

Original title: Netemo Sematemo

Directed by Ryûsuke Hamaguchi | 2018 | Japan, France

Main cast: Masahiro Higashide, Erika Karata, Sairi Itô, Kôji Nakamoto, Kôji Seto, Misako Tanaka, Daichi Watanabe, Rio Yamashita

Rating: 5.5