Story of Yonosuke, the new film from The Woodsman and The Rain director Shuichi Okita, is perhaps more a story about Yonosuke than the story of him. Less than a complete picture, we only catch glimpses of him through the prism of the memories of those with whom he spent his university years. In fact, we never really find out what happened to him in between leaving university and the present time when all of his friends spontaneously seem to be reminded of him. Nor do we really find out just why all of these people for whom Yonosuke seemed to be such a big part of their lives ended up losing touch with him to the point where he’s just a vague memory that doesn’t even present itself very often. In one sense, it’s a bittersweet tragedy about the transience of youth, yet in another it’s a testament to how one person’s selfless positivity and zest for life can affect the lives of all around him in untold ways.
Yonosuke Yokomichi is a small town boy newly arrived in Tokyo to attend a university (business studies of course; this is Tokyo in 1987). Somewhat at sea, as most people are when they leave home for the first time, he quickly makes friends with a few other students in the same situation - and also joins the samba club. Over the course of their time together he’ll help a couple get together, help a friend accept his sexuality and start a tentative romance with a very strange rich girl. Fifteen years later all these friends have gone their separate ways and got on with their lives but almost simultaneously they all stop and remember their old friend from university - the funny one with the weird name that was always so cheerful; whatever happened to him?
Although it’s primarily a comedy, there’s a streak of melancholy that runs through A Story of Yonosuke. We can feel the terrible hand of fate that seems to be lurking somewhere off screen, implying that there must be a reason why everyone’s suddenly thinking about Yonosuke after all these years. In one sense, that’s exactly it - that nobody knows what’s happened to him now and nobody could see the effect he had on their lives back then. It’s almost like an unwitting eulogy in some ways as each of the people who knew him best take centre stage to remember who he was and what he meant to them.
On the other hand though, even though Yonosuke himself is something of a cipher - a composite of other peoples recollections - his warmth and generosity of spirit shine through. He’s the sort of person that somehow always knows what to do and just has the ability make everything better, as if it’s all going to be alright. It’s not surprising in that sense that he ended up joining a Samba club, incongruous though that may seem. A bright and colourful spectacle that’s just about having fun and dancing to the rhythm of life - it would be difficult to find a better representation of Yonosuke’s spirit.
At 160 minutes, this is a long film and unfortunately it does end up feeling far too long. Its nature is fragmentary and meandering, and it can become a little difficult to remember where you are and how all this fits together - not unlike life, it has to said - but as a film it can be a slightly frustrating experience. Fortunately though, all the characters are so compelling that you don’t quite mind spending so long with them (even if you do sometimes wish they’d get to the point a bit faster). The ‘story’ of Yonosuke Yokomichi in that sense is exactly what it’s about - less the man than the story that’s grown up about him in the memories of friends who drifted away. On the one hand it’s a heartbreaking story, but on the other the memory of Yonosuke’s warmth and kindness shines straight through.
The Story of Yonosuke screens as part the Terracotta Far East Film Festival 8th June 2013 and will de released on DVD courtesy of Third Window Films later in the year.