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Fantastic Fest 2010: Golden Slumber

“This is a unique, fascinating piece of flawed film-making.”

Golden Slumber

Directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura

Written by Kotaro Isaka

Japan, 2010

Like Nakamura’s previous film, Fish Story, Golden Slumber is a film tailor-made for cult success. Slumber’s overarching thematic message is encapsulated within the Beatles’ tune, and titular reference, “Golden Slumbers,” and the film relies on healthy doses of fantasy to keep its shaggy-dog epic ticking. Built on a foundation of rich imagery, absurd political intrigue, and romantic inclinations, Slumber offers plenty to enjoy.  It’s thankful, though, that Nakamura employs an ace cast and a quality lenser, becausewhile Slumber works exquisitely on several levels, Nakamura ultimately fails in hammering out one coherent, approachable narrative.

The film’s action kicks off with a beautiful and contemplative scene. Slumber’s winning schlub, Aoyagi, sits in a car with an old friend who has just drugged him. His friend informs him that their car is parked right behind a parade, at which the prime minister is going to be assassinated. The rub is that Aoyagi, who enjoyed a brief stint as a beloved national icon after saving a pop star’s life, is to be “Lee Harvey Oswald’ed”–that is, made scape-goat for the forthcoming assassination. Cue an explosion, and two policemen briskly making their way to Aoyagi’s parked car. And from there the film operates like a twee, outrageous political thriller.

The plot of Slumber is just this: Aoyagi curiously evades capture despite his dimwitted propensity to walk into traps.  But what the film is ostensibly about is Aoyagi’s past, and how his deep-seated friendships will carry him through to salvation. The singular problem with Slumber, though, is that it is in love with these ideas and characters and kind of ambivalent about sensible narrative. Often enough this catalyzes the absurd and capricious spirit that makes Slumber so enjoyable, but in the end Nakamura’s meditation on love and friendship comes across as shallow sentimentality and the frequent introduction of unique travel companions comes across as rotating deux-ex-machinas. Naturally, there will be different schools of thought on that, and the character relationships and greater message of Slumber will really connect with some viewers. But the true value the film is is not, as the director intended, in the nostalgic remembrance described by the Beatles’ refrain, but is instead delivered through its gorgeous, if disparate, images and hilarious cast of lovable buffoons. This is a unique, fascinating piece of flawed film-making.

Emmet Duff

Visit the official website for Fantastic Fest 2010