My Back Page

Student radicalism is a bit of a yawn in Nobuhiro Yamashita's new film

My Back Page


Director: Nobuhiro Yamashita
Starring: Satoshi Tsumabuki, Kenichi Matsuyama, Shiori Kutsuna
Time Out rating:

Coming in a year when most of the northern hemisphere seems to be rekindling its appetite for public protest, My Back Page feels particularly well timed. Nobuhiro Yamashita's film, based on a memoir by Saburo Kawamoto, tells the true-life story of a journalist who gets a little too close to a student insurrectionist in the aftermath of the 1969 Tokyo University protests. On paper, it's a tantalising prospect, yet this drab period piece offers little insight into one of the most troubled stretches of Japan's post-war history.

The story focuses on Sawada (Satoshi Tsumabuki), an idealistic reporter whose search for authentic grit leads him from selling bunny rabbits with vagabond street vendors to ferrying fugitives to protests. When he meets student radical Umeyama (Kenichi Matsuyama), he sees a potential scoop amidst the latter's talk of violent insurrection. The two bond over a late-night rendition of 'Have You Ever Seen the Rain?', but is the charismatic young agitator everything he claims to be – or, as Sawada's older colleague warns, merely 'one of those self-professed leftists'?

This isn't a film about ideology, however, and after a while viewers will probably lose interest in whether Umeyama is for real, and begin to address the more pertinent question of whether anything is ever going to happen. My Back Page rambles on for a very long 140 minutes, perhaps because Yamashita hoped that some hidden depths might emerge over the course of its protracted running time. They don't, and the minimal, Jarmusch-esque style that served the director so well in his 2005 comedy Linda, Linda, Linda merely leeches any dramatic tension here.

Even the pairing of Tsumabuki and Matsuyama, widely considered two of the finest actors in their generation, ultimately fails to deliver many sparks. Both give competent performances, but without any obvious chemistry between the two, all they've got to fall back on is a shared love of Creedence.

My Back Page opens in Japan on May 28

By James Hadfield
Please note: All information is correct at the time of writing but is subject to change without notice.


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