Metro Ni Notte Review

While some Japanese filmmakers, like Toshiaki Toyoda in films like Hanging Garden, are examining the fractures that make up the family unit as a reflection on Japanese society as a whole and speculating on where it is going to lead, the more mainstream filmmakers are showing a tendency to reflect their dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs by looking back on the past with the rosy glow of nostalgic ideal - almost certainly illusory - for when times were simpler, and the family unit was a secure and stable environment. No more so than during the feudal system, where everyone knew their place, be it ever so humble, and the virtues of honour, loyalty and duty where adhered to unquestioningly. This is proving to be the more lucrative ground for this rather conservative filmmaking trend, these values being promoted in bland samurai movies such as Twilight Samurai and The Hidden Blade and When The Last Sword Is Drawn.

The appeal of such films is not hard to identify, the economic and social difficulties of the nation at present being washed away with the memory of when the nation was once a great empire. Inevitably, in line with such a reactionary and revisionist viewpoint, it would only a matter of time before this longing was translated into an actual desire to go back in time and correct the mistakes of the past. On the surface, Metro Ni Notte’s time-travel storyline might seem innocent enough – a reflection on the past that allows one man to make a belated reconciliation with his father - but the ideology that lies underneath it gives us a fascinating glimpse into the current state of the psyche of the Japanese people today.

Based on a novel by Jiro Asada, Metro Ni Notte’s reflection on the past follows a pattern familiar from other adaptations of the author’s work in Poppoya, Failan, and When The Last Sword Is Drawn. Here Shinji has long had a difficult relationship with his father, to the extent that he has even legally separated himself from the family, changing his name from Konuma to his mother’s maiden name of Hasebe. Although he works in the same business line as his father, as a salesman for a small clothing firm, his father’s approach to business is much more ruthless and on a grander scale, but the name Sakichi Konuma is famously associated with big business scandals and corruption. Although he doesn’t see it, Shinji is perhaps rather more like his father than he would like to think, displaying a certain amount of cold-heartedness and having disowned to some extent his own family. This fact is pointed out to him, not a little ironically, by his mistress, Michiko.

One day however, a meeting with an old school teacher in the Tokyo underground is a catalyst that propels Shinji quite literally back into the past. Believing that he has seen his brother Shoichi, who died in 1964, Shinji follows him out of the underground station to find himself back in time on the fateful day that his brother died in October 1964. Can his intervention change the past? Or, as subsequent trips indicate, does he need to go back further and confront the real root of the problem – his father?

Although it is not particularly clear what instigates these sudden time jumps, the time travel episodes are intriguing from a psychological viewpoint as well as being an interesting plot device that allow Shinji to examine his own personality and gain a better understanding of his own father by seeing the factors that influenced the man he would later become. What is more intriguing is the significance of the dates that Shinji jumps back to in time, which suggest a longing to return to the glory times of 1964, the year Japan was proud to host the Tokyo Olympics, as well as the war and immediate post-war years when everything went wrong for the nation. Shinji’s journey to reconciliation with his father then could also be seen as a needing for the Japanese to come to terms with their past, and that’s also an intriguing proposition.

Unfortunately, like the similarly themed Yamato, rather than revisiting the past in an attempt to come to terms with it, Metro Ni Notte displays a rather unsettling nationalistic tendency to idealise it and thus render it much more palatable for modern audiences. Like Junya Sato, as a director Tetsuo Shinohara also displays little in the way of imagination in his rather theatrical treatment of genre clichés. The transitions to the past are illustrated each time by an unimaginative flow down an underground tunnel in the Tokyo metro system, into a past where Shinji and Michiko’s anachronistic appearances and disappearances in the rather stagy-looking pasts are never really questioned by the people they come into contact with. Shin'ichi Tsutsumi and Aya Okamoto deal with the subsequent contrivances gamely as Shinji and Michiko, bringing some measure of human interest to the situation but Takao Osawa’s every appearance on the screen as the father Sakichi is incredibly mannered, each gesture a calculated attempt to put on a star turn.

Having seen what had to be endured during the war – in this idealised and forgiving light – Shinji is rather conveniently able to be reconciled with his father, who nevertheless remains the overplaying monster he always was. Presumably, this glossy, superficial return to the past is also meant to strike a feel-good cord with its Japanese audience, urging them for the sake of the family and the nation to be more tolerant and understanding of the abuses of the patriarchal system. It’s an unconvincing proposition all around.

Metro Ni Notte (Riding On The Metro) is released in Japan by Geneon. It is available in Standard and Premium Editions. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc in NTSC format and is encoded for Region 2.

As with most Asian NTSC transfers, there is the usual flatness to blacks and lack of any great shadow detail, with colour tones also being somewhat dampened, but technically, there is not much wrong with the transfer here. The overall tone is pleasant, with a nice softness that takes the clinical edge off the film’s studio settings. There are no flaws in the print, not a mark or scratch. Some minor judder can however be seen occasionally in slow pans and slower movements across the screen, where the refresh rate makes it look like it is slipping into slow motion. It’s not that noticeable or problematic, particularly considering the other qualities evident in the clarity of the transfer.

The film comes with a choice of Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 mixes, both of which are well employed for the sounds, music score and directional effects with a fullness of tone and clarity, although it’s not particularly heavy on the lower-frequencies. Dialogue, mainly on the centre channel, has a tendency to distort on louder exchanges.

English subtitles are provided and are optional in a white font, translating the film reasonably thoroughly. Some important newspaper headlines are translated, but other signs and notices are not. Their significance usually becomes clear however, but some subtleties might be lost on the English viewer.

The majority of the more substantial extra features would appear to be on the second disc of the Premium Edition. On the Standard Edition therefore, all we have is a Commentary by the Director and Set Designer, as well as four Theatrical Teasers (4:49) and 15” and 30” TV Spots. None of the extra features are subtitled.

There is certainly some interest in Metro Ni Notte time-travel storyline with its Always – Sunset On Third Street nostalgic recreations of the past, the film even managing to successfully use the paradoxes of the consequences of time travel to throw in a few unexpected twists. The film is also likely to appeal to anyone who has enjoyed other adaptations of Jiro Asada’s work (Failan, When The Last Sword Is Drawn), demonstrating as it does a somewhat sentimental and tragic journey that a character undergoes to uncover an unknown side to a loved-one that changes their opinion of them. Largely however, the film plays very safe both in Tetsuo Shinohara’s directorial choices and in the subject’s ultimate purpose, feeding its Japanese mainstream cinema audience with more escapist and idealised nostalgic views of the past. The staid conservatism that is designed to appeal to a mainstream Japanese audience may perhaps not be as evident to a wider international audience, who may be able appreciate the noble sentiments of the storyline if they can get past its sometimes less than credible contrivances. Geneon’s Japanese edition of the film serves the film very well indeed.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 02:37:10

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