iSugio

Yellow Elephant – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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Married couple Aiko Tsumari and Ayumu Muko live a happy and peaceful life. Aiko is bit naive, while Ayumu works as a not so popular novelist. One day, a letter arrives for Ayumu. Because of this letter, the couple become estranged.

Based on the novel Kiroi Jou by Kanako Nishi, Ryuichi Hiroki’s Yellow Elephant is a much more lighthearted work than many of his previous efforts, bringing about a sense of the supernormal as the character Aiko, played by Aoi Miyazaki, can communicate with elements of nature. While this may sound like an odd feature to include in a film primarily centered on the relationship of two individuals, Yellow Elephant is mainly a film that explores the fragility of marriage when unresolved past conflicts arise within it.

Hiroki has often been seen as a director willing to explore some very difficult subject material within his films, tackling elements of the human experience that are often viewed as taboo and delegated to individuals seen as residing outside mainstream Japanese society. Vibrator (2003), L’amant (2004), and River (2012) and many more of his films have done just exactly that. Because of this approach, many of his films are seen as audacious experiences that contain distinct characters dealing with rather abnormal circumstances. With Yellow Elephant, this approach does not change, but unlike many of his previous films, it is also one of Hiroki’s most conventional works to date.

Like stated earlier, Yellow Elephant deals primarily with the atypical marriage between Aiko and Ayumu, who is played here by Osamu Mukai. It is unusual in the sense that Aiko can communicate with animals, insects, and even plant life as she goes about her daily duties. This characteristic of Aiko lends her character, and overall film, a whimsical and charming atmosphere, but it also serves as an allegorical take on remaining truthful to your significant other in marriage. When an unexpected occurrence happens to both Ayumu and Aiko that could change the outcome of their joyful relationship forever, Aiko slowly begins to lose her ability to communicate and function as an intermediary between the human and the living environment around her. Perhaps more importantly, Aiko slowly begins to lose her ability to communicate with Ayumu, leading to further personal dismay. It is a subtle but noticeable shift as the film proceeds, with Hiroki focusing on the emotional turmoil that arises all due to Ayumu being confronted with his past and its effect on Aiko.

Unlike many of Hiroki’s previous films, Yellow Elephant is genuinely a good-spirited film that does not lead its characters ultimately down a destructive path. For what it is worth though, the film does not actually have much of the emotional leverage as seen in previous films by Hiroki. This impacts the overall film, presenting much of its more important moments as simply elongated sequences without too much resolve. As interpretative as they are, they just do not have the emotional impact necessary to have us care about how they will affect the characters, and very little is actually accomplished until the film’s last, poignant half. The touching conclusion makes up for much of the film’s rather orthodox approach, which is certainly unsuspecting of a Hiroki film.

Yellow Elephant is definitely viewed as a film that follows a more traditional route, coupled with a metaphorical stance on the aspect of communication and the significance of it when it comes to relationships. Hiroki does a wonderful job in this regard, exploring the gap that often exists when one views a troubled relationship. In many respects, that is the primary strength of the film, with Hiroki once again exploring the genuine human experience, only this this time subscribing to a more established narrative structure to do so. While somewhat slow in starting out, Yellow Elephant is small film that is as heartfelt as it is formulaic, in turn stressing the importance of effectively communicating with the individuals we care for.

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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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