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Tokyo drifter: Yoichi Higashi goes ‘Wandering Home’

Wandering Home
‘Wandering Home’
TOKYO (TR) – Veteran helmer Yoichi Higashi tackles the difficult subject of a family being torn apart by alcoholism in his latest film, the drama “Wandering Home.”

The often brutal and sometimes humorous pic, to be released next next month, is based on the autobiography of the late journalist Yutaka Kamoshida, who detailed his struggle with alcohol dependency and the resulting burden placed upon his wife, manga artist Rieko Saibara, and two young children.

“I didn’t have the sense that I was making a film about a person suffering from alcohol dependency,” said the 76-year-old Higashi following an evening press screening at The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan on Monday. “I had the sense that I was making a film about a pilgrim, about someone who was wandering, searching for a path in life.”

The Japanese title reads, “I’ll Come Home When I’m Sober,” and Yasu, Kamoshida’s character played by Tadanobu Asano, spends very little time at his west Tokyo residence. After abusing his wife (Hiromi Nagasaku, who recently appeared in “Cast Me If You Can”), and multiple ambulance trips to the hospital, one of which follows a violent blood-vomiting incident, he is admitted to a specialized rehab facility for long-term care. Yet Higashi takes such a difficult subject and mixes dark comedy into the script, such as Yasu’s obsession with receiving curry meals.

“Human beings, when they are suffering, they put on a brave face,” Higashi said, “and instead of showing their suffering they will resort to humor to respond to the stress. That is an approach I take in my filmmaking.”

Higashi’s five-decade career has included “Village of Dreams,” a period pic that celebrates childhood and the winner of the Silver Bear at the 1996 Berlin International Film Festival, and kamikaze tale “Crying Wind,” the Innovation Award winner at the 28th Montreal World Film Festival in 2004.

This summer the helmer returned to his early days in soft-core porn, arguably highlighted by the 1981 Nikkatsu “roman porno” feature “Love Letter.” The pinku eiga pic “Nurse Natsuko’s Hot Summer,” which chronicles a man’s amorous escapades with his wife’s nurse and stars Kanade Ai and Yoko Satomi, was released in August.

Last month, “Wandering Home” opened the “Japanese Eyes” section of the 2010 Tokyo International Film Festival. The year before it was selected for co-production among 25 projects at the fifth edition of the Tokyo Project Gathering market, which is affiliated with TIFF.

Executive producer Tetsujiro Yamagami said that, in addition to the powerful subject matter, one reason for making the film was that its theme currently resonates in Japan’s film industry.

“A number of film directors that I am associated with have suffered from alcohol dependency, to the extent that some of them were unable to continue making films,” Yamagami said. “The reality is that making films in Japan is a very stressful occupation, and many people do succumb to alcohol dependency in the course of making films.”

Yamagami added that the Kamoshida family did not place any demands on the production team. “In that sense, this film was blessed with an environment and personal relationships that made the work go smoothly,” he said.

The film, however, is not a strict narrative of Kamoshida’s plight, with the occasional hallucinations experienced by Asano’s character being one example. “It is one aspect of alcohol dependency: sufferers live in a fantasy world as well as reality,” explained Higashi. “Personally, I am one who has a hard time distinguishing between the world of reality and dreams; I can’t tell, for instance, if I am here tonight or if this is a dream.”

Distrib Bitters End will release “Wandering Home” domestically on December 4.