iSugio

Chips – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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Set in Sendai, Japan, two men live completely different lives. One is a star professional baseball player and the other burglarizes empty homes. Their fate connects with unseeable connections when Tadashi Imamura and a suicidal woman enter the home of the professional baseball player.

The aspect of interconnectedness shared between characters has always been a strong element within the many films of director Yoshihiro Nakamura. Whether this is seen in his works The Foreign Duck, the Native Duck and God in a Coin Locker (2007), Fish Story (2009), and Golden Slumber (2009), Nakamura has a knack for bringing about the ties that bind individuals together in a rather imaginative fashion, no doubt partly due to author Kotaro Isaka, whose works Nakamura derives many of his films from. With his film Chips, Nakamura once again strives to deliver a humorously intertwining narrative filled with distinct characters, which he accomplishes for the most part albeit stumbling somewhat during the film’s first half.

With the film being based upon a novel by author Kotaro Isaka, the conceptual premise of the narrative is solidly in place, with Nakamura paying special attention to how characters met in the past and their connections in the present. But oddly enough, Nakamura often spends a little bit too much time on such occurrences, especially during the first half of the film. This approach doesn’t necessarily hinder the humor nor poignancy provided through the narrative, but what it does do is make the film feel much longer than it truly is. It would appear that Namakura is seemingly conservative here regarding his direction, slowly emphasizing the rather subtle clues littered throughout practically every scene within the film, which is not a bad directorial choice in the least, but it unfortunately doesn’t really lead anywhere until the film’s final thirty minutes.

But Nakamura’s interpretation of Isaka’s work here is so keenly adapted, it’s hard not to see how the relevancy of the film’s plot overcomes its structural flaws. Chips is a film that explores the concept of family and how one relatively negative action of chance can lead to a positive action of change, utilizing the background of Sendai as an allegorical take on the devastating effects of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Nakamura provides snippets of this message throughout, and although not as poignant as some of his other films, definitely provides Chips with a suitable foundation that only strengthens its narrative. It’s certainly not attempting to be heavily philosophical, but it provides an opportunity for Nakamura to explore the bigger aspects of life through a significantly smaller narrative scope.

As for the cast, Nakamura favorite Gaku Hamada once again offers an adequate performance as Tadashi and is significantly more polished here, finding his way into the role with relative ease. There a plot twist that occurs towards the latter half of the film that  establishes the character of Tadashi as an individual we can really sympathize given his simple wish to better understand his role as a son. As his motives become clearer to us as the audience, we begin to slowly see how things in his life coalesce around a deep desire to help a professional baseball player by the name of Ozaki, which leads to a particularly emotional revelation concerning his relationship with his mother.

But who is truly fantastic is Nao Omori as the quiet, stern, and considerate Kurosawa. Similar to his role in the film Tokyo Playboy Club (2011), Omori delivers a surprisingly comical performance here, portraying Kurosawa as a man with few words who seemingly doesn’t want to be where he is, simply tagging along for the hell of it. It is not until the film’s final moments where we learn much about him as well as his motives, all which makes us better understand his role in Tadashi’s life. It usually seems that Omori is offered roles that require him to appear much more reserved, which I think is somewhat unfortunately given his talent, but it surprisingly works well here.

And with a running time consisting of roughly over an hour, Chips is indeed a significantly smaller, more concise film than many of Nakamura’s previous efforts. Those looking for another vast intertwining narrative may be slightly at odds towards what Nakamura offers here, as it is delegated more attached to examining the role of personal kinship. Nakamura does indeed still focus on a multitude of individuals and their unseeable connections, but he delivers it through a more darkly comedic atmosphere. This is most likely due to the film’s setting being that of Sendai, but it showcases Nakamura’s ability to provide a humorous light on a rather tragic situation. As such, Chips offers a rather quirky, emotionally grounded little tale that fans of Nakamura will appreciate, residing within the narrative framework of many previous efforts by him.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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