Film review by David Cirone
– Screening as part of the Japan Cuts Film Festival on Tuesday, August 1, 2023
Summary (from the Japan Cuts website)
U.S. Premiere. A sprawling account of the alleged kidnapping of a nine-year-old young girl by a university student and the years-long repercussions of the event, Wandering delves into the gray area of the circumstances in question. 15 years after their initial encounter, Sarasa runs into her accused captor Fumi, bringing forth a deluge of memories and recollections. Based on the novel by Yu Nagira, Wandering dwells on challenging ethical and moral complexities with director Sang-il Lee (Villain, Rage) offering no easy answers in this compelling, thought-provoking drama. Recommended for mature audiences.
Wandering (original title: Ruro no Tsuki, or Wandering Moon) tells a compelling story about two people trying to live conventional lives while fighting against their true natures, both longing for the past while dealing with the obligations of the present.
Adapted from Yu Nagira’s novel and directed by Sang-il Lee (Hula Girls), Wandering presents an amazing showcase for its two lead actors – Suzu Hirose as Sarasa, a 24-year-old adult who is haunted by the tragic events of her childhood, and Tori Matsuzaka as Fumi, a coffee shop owner trying to start an adult relationship 15 years after losing his connection to Sarasa as a young girl.
Hirose fill the early minutes with the complex nuances of a woman going through the motions of life: saying the right things and smiling at the right time. She has a “perfect” engagement to a handsome young businessman, Ryo, and does her best to fit in with the gossiping wives at her restaurant job. When a late night stop for coffee with her best friend and single mom Kanako (played with much-needed vigor by Shuri Mizutani) accidentally reunites Sarasa with Fumi, the tension in Hirose’s eyes is magnetic. Matsuzaka is completely believable throughout as the repressed young man whose desire for emotional connection defies social norms.
Lee’s relaxed direction throughout the film gives us room to attach to these great performances, and the lingering mix of dread and hope following this chance meeting is the best part of the film. Unfortunately, a major reveal mid-way brings an early climax to the tension, and the film settles in for nearly an hour of voice over confessions and meditations on life, society, and romance. Moreover, the script forces Ryusei Yokohama to play Ryo as a one-note villain.
With beautiful cinematography by Hong Kyung-pyo and a gentle score by Marihiko Hara, Wandering frames the protagonists as misunderstood innocents abused by society. But the characters seem ignorant of the results their actions will cause. There’s a particularly strange sequence where Sarasa brings her best friend’s young daughter into the situation without thought of repercussions. When Sarasa and Fumi confess their secret flaws, they become strikingly empathetic, but the puzzling plot points throw our connection with them off balance.
Despite a weak second half, Wandering features stunning emotional performances that will stay with you long after the film’s over.
Japan Cuts 2023
Presented by Japan Society (New York)
July 26 — August 6, 2023