UK DVD release date: Feb 2011
Running time: 100 minutes
Director: Hideo Nakata
Starring: Risa Goto, Hiroki Kohara
UK distributor: Palisades/Tartan
As the only survivor of the Ryusei airplane disaster in 1954 a pregnant lady passes away shortly after giving birth to her daughter. What should be a bitter/sweet time for the family is saddened further by the fact that the little girl was born in a coma. Seven years later when an inquisitive child by the name of Yuichi (Rikiya Otaka as 7 yr old) wanders into her room he give told the story of sleeping beauty beginning a decade long quest for the child to bring the sleeping Yumi (Risa Goto) around and into his arms.
As a premise you could be forgiven for thinking of it as a sweet, even soft, film but quite quickly there are some difficult issues arising thematically and visually. The opening scene surveying the wreckage and death of the flight which crashed in Ryusei is striking for it’s use of dark, earthy colours and the way in which the cinematography lingers for moments to consume the damage. Early on Dr. Hishikawa highlights a serious issue with the narrative of the film, one which they would perhaps skim past or completely ignore in another country or with another director. The rather large issue of a 17 year old girl experiencing consciousness for the first time. Her first step, word, meal, all of which is somewhat daunting even scary to consider. It is perhaps then no surprise that Hideo Nakata (Dark Water, The Ring 2 – both Japanese & U.S version) is at the helm to give this real world fairy tale a little touch of menace like a ‘down to earth’ Guillermo Del Toro.
The cinematography of the film is the first thing you notice as it’s excellent and stylish without being overly self aware. The montage of kisses as over the years are put together nicely in a repetitive way that is evident in verbal story telling. The use of iris fades and the soft glow of the girls bedroom place this reality nicely against a story land back drop as Yumi lays radiant in her enclosure. The use of chariascuro effects during the night when Yuichi races to his loves room to kiss her in his wake up ritual creates a wonderful Frankenstein moment that is both excellent and fitting.
Casting for a film like Sleeping Bride is critical as the film rides on two people with the rest of the cast relegated to supporting roles and rightly so. Hiroki Kohara as Yuichi (17 yrs old) performances extremely well as much of his acting has to be in his head, his desire, his dream of waking his princess up and living happily ever after. It is this introverted quality that has made him something of a sought after boyfriend in his school. His resistance to dating any of the high school girls is played well as dedication, a character trait in all fairy tale heroes, and only goes to make them wanted more especially by Keiko (played wonderfully by Tomoka Hayashi). The scene in which she accidentally steals a kiss after being pushed down the stairs is both comical and emotionally painful all thanks to her expressive performance. The role of Yumi is very much, to steal a sporting cliché, a performance of two halves. The first 45 minutes of the film Yumi obviously has nothing to do but lay in her coma and be desired but it is when she awakes that Risa Goto has to make the audience love her the way Yuichi loves Yumi. This is actually all too easy for her as she’s got excellent comic timing and is able to play the 17 year old infant extremely well. The scene with Yumi and Yuichi escaping their hospital escorts in the grounds and fleeing to the fairground give ways to many moments that are at best heart warming and at worse a little bit slap stick.
The direction is faultless, Nakata is after all a genuine master of stop telling regardless of genre and it is under his guidance that the film manages to maintain its balance, never fully tipping into the realm of the obsurd though the film is not without problems. The notion of having to experience life for the first time and being fully developed was an interesting one, having to learn to walk, talk let alone getting to grips with social conventions and was an idea that could have proved to be interesting to explore. That is another film, and having never read the graphic novel you probably shouldn’t have an issue that they don’t deal with something that was never dealt with in the source matter but it all comes a little too easy. By day two she’s running around the fairground and day three giving television interviews though the flashback to the plane crash suggests a form of unconscious memory which is interesting but again not really touched on other than to explain away her advanced learning which includes a well detailed drawing of Yumi’s father from a girl who’s technically a day and a half old.
Sleeping Bride, for all it’s qualities, is little more than the most recent in a rich history of modern day interpretations of fairy tales. At times it threatened to open up a new relevant way of telling classic stories but ironically after a promising start the film unfortunately falls asleep when the heroine wakes up.
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