“Yomigaeri” isn’t a movie that tries to scare you; in fact, it does everything it can not to scare you. Despite its premise — dead people are mysteriously resurrected and returns to their loved ones — “Yomigaeri” is anything but a horror film. If anything, it’s more of a fantasy movie, the way “Field of Dreams” is; both films bring dead people back to life, but does it in such a straightforward and non-threatening manner as to make the supernatural occasion innocuous and the means irrelevant.
When dead people starts returning to the small Japanese town of Aso, government official Kawada (Tsuyoshi Kusanagi) is dispatched to uncover the “truth”. As it so happens, Aso was where Kawada was born and raised, but left years ago. Returning home, Kawada begins his investigation with a young boy who has returned to his mother after disappearing in the woods 60 years ago. The rest of the town is experiencing similar unexplained events. Kawada also reacquaints himself with childhood friend Aoi (Yuko Takeuchi), who is herself still trying to get over the death of her boyfriend.
Since the story at hand is beyond the realm of reason, one expects director Akihiko Shiota, operating from a novel by Shinji Kajio, to treat the movie as if it existed beyond the boundaries of what we know as “the real world”. Instead, the script elects to make the movie as close to reality as possible. Meaning that when the dead begins to return, government man Kawada races to uncover the reasons before the public gets wind of the phenomenon. And even when word starts to spread, Kawada decides to hide the truth, hoping that the rumors will remain nothing more than just that.
A plus for the movie is the exceptional cast, led by Kusanagi as the weary official, who realizes he’s way over his head but soldiers on anyway. Opposite him is Yuko Takeuchi (“Ring”), who is effective as the heartbroken hometown girl who assists Kawada in his investigation. The two are not only old friends, but also old lovers. The relationship ended when Kawada moved to Tokyo, and Aoi fell in love with their mutual friend Shunsuke, who went on to die while at sea. It is the dead Shunsuke that Aoi pines for, and his lack of resurrection is a mystery to her and us.
Much of “Yomigaeri” plays out as episodic, like individual chapters in a larger novel. The 2-hour-long movie has a wide-ranging cast, including a widow restaurant owner and the young man who works for — and has a crush on — her. There’s the widow’s husband, who returns to find his wife doing just fine independent of him. The other subplot that gets more than cursory screentime is a high school student who hung himself out of, he confesses, boredom. Now resurrected, the boy still has no idea what to do with himself. After all, what good is a second chance at life when you didn’t know what to do with it the first time around?
At its core, “Yomigaeri” seems to be most concern with the ideas of what we, as human beings, think we want and need, and how sometimes what we need isn’t actually what we want. The restaurant widower spent the years after her husband’s death wishing he would come back, but his return is at least two years too late. Aoi wants boyfriend Shunsuke back, but fate has conspired to deny her this wish. Later on, the reasons become clear, affecting not just her, but the returned — albeit in the traditional way — Kawada.
“Yomigaeri” is an interesting film with a lot of good ideas. It’s basic premise remains unexplored until around the hour mark, when a Big Reveal introduces us to what may be the source of the resurrections: a giant crater in the middle of the forest. Not that it matters. This “explanation”, such as it is, is only a surface idea, as the real story are the wishes, needs, and emotions of its characters; and those things have nothing to do with a crater in the ground.
A shorter running time and some judicious script doctoring could have strengthened “Yomigaeri”. In its present state, the movie is oftentimes too unwieldy, with too many ideas and a cast more fitting for a mini-series instead of a 2-hour movie. At its heart, the film has (pardon the pun) a lot of heart, and that is its saving grace. And where the film lacks in subtlety, it makes up with sincerity.
Akihiko Shiota (director) / Shinji Kajio (screenplay)
CAST: Tsuyoshi Kusanagi …. Heita Kawada
Yuko Takeuchi …. Aoi Tachibana
Sho Aikawa …. Shuhei