Director: Joji Matsuoka
Cast: Shintaro Morimoto, Marino Kuwajima, Teruyuki Kagawa, Rei Dan, Maiko, Gaku Yamamoto, Katsuo Nakamura, Keiko Kishi
RunTime: 1 hr 55 mins
Released By: Innoform Media & Cathay Keris-Films
Official Website: -
Opening Day: 13 May 2010 (Exclusively at Orchard Cineleisure)
10-year-old Sota lives with his grandfather and a dog named Chibi in a small snowy village. They live in such poverty that Sota cannot even afford to go to school, but however hard the situation is, Sota never holds a bad feeling against anyone around and keeps his dream alive to become a painter. He has been friends with Sayo, a girl brought up in a wealthy family, ever since they were little despite the difference in their family background, which made Sayo's father feel uneasy. In spite of the difficulties he faces, Sota manages to complete a piece of painting which he wishes to show Sayo. He and Chibi go down a snowy night path to Sayo's house only to find her father's storage on fire...
Through their encounters, Sota and Chibi reminds us that genuine happiness always exists in your heart
Like the terrific Academy-Award winning "Departures", writer Kundo Koyama's latest is also a deeply meaningful film about life and its inevitable departures. Unlike the former however, this film by director Joji Matsuoka (Tokyo Tower: Mom, Me and Sometimes Dad) isn't always as captivating. In fact, viewers will need some patience to sit through this slow moving but ultimately poignant tale.
The story begins in the present when the elderly Sayo Arima (Keiko Kishi) receives an unexpected package one day which happens to be a manuscript. As Sayo reads it, the movie goes back some 70 years in time to the snow-country village where young Sayo (Marino Kuwajima) grew up. At the centre of the story is the deep friendship between Sayo and a poor village boy, Sato (Shintaro Morimoto) who has no money to attend school but loves to paint.
Sayo's father (Teruki Kagawa) however forbids them from spending time together- he feels she shouldn't be mixing with people from the lower classes; and especially doesn't want his daughter to start developing feelings for Sato. But Sayo's mother (Reiki Dan) is more tolerant and even asks her to bring gifts for Sato and his grandfather, whom he lives with after his mother died and father abandoned him.
Oh, there's also Chibi, a white Akita dog (like the one in Hachiko) that Sayo and Sato discover one day while spending time together, that becomes Sato's constant companion. With all these elements- the struggle for friendship between a rich girl and a poor boy; the grandfather who raises a child on his own; the oh-so-adorable and loyal dog- it wouldn't be too far to expect a melodrama to unfold.
To Matsuoka's credit, the film is never unnecessarily maudlin; instead, Matsuoka allows the events to develop naturally, and in doing so, sets the deliberate pacing of the film that some viewers will no doubt find trying. Matsuoka's decision to focus the film on portraying Sato and Sayo's perseverance and determination to keep their friendship alive is also a double-edged sword- while it does let viewers empathise with the two soulmates, it also doesn't give much room for the film to develop elsewhere. Even the presence of Chibi seems extraneous, since the dog doesn't contribute to the story at all except to follow Sato around.
Still, despite the pacing and the single-minded storytelling, Kundo Koyama's deft writing ensures that the film is still poignant as it should be. The introduction of a travelling circus midway through the movie becomes a befitting metaphor for the transient nature of life, as Sota laments in a heartbreaking scene why the things and the people in his life have to go away. Just as affecting are his grandfather's words of wisdom for the young child, gently advising Sato not to hate anyone or bear any grudges for the circumstances and predicaments in his life. Indeed, their quiet resilience to accept and respect their place in life, to make do the best they can with what they have and what they can afford, will likely bring tears to your eyes.
The sincere performances of Shintaro Morimoto and Marino Kuwajima also go a long way in making the movie a heartfelt experience. In particular, Shintaro carries the lead role beautifully, never hitting a false note that would otherwise diminish the emotional impact of the film.
It's inevitable that one compares "Snow Prince" to Koyama's brilliant and outstanding "Departures", but on that measure, it will likely come up short. Still, "Snow Prince's" charm is more gentle and subtle, and demands a little patience from its viewer which it does reward at the end. Give it some time if you will, and this story about adolescent friendship that stays with one despite the passing of time is still affecting in its own way.
(Though a tad slow, this is still a deeply moving and poignant story about the friendships that stay with us forever)
Review by Gabriel Chong