Review – My Dad and Mr. Ito
By Geoffrey Greig
Director Yuki Tanada’s film, My Dad and Mr. Ito (お父さんと伊藤さん) had its North American premiere on November 10th, and JETAA Toronto was proud to be one of the community co-presenters for the film. The film was well-attended at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, and seemed to very much engage the audience.
The film centers around Aya (Juri Ueno), a 34 year-old woman who meets her romantic partner, the much older titular Mr. Ito (Lily Franky), while working at a convenience store. We’re introduced to Mr. Ito in a flashback, where he is being disciplined at work, and then receive glimpses of his and Aya’s budding relationship before returning to the present continuity of the film. Early on, a meeting with Aya’s brother reveals some problems at home. Aya’s brother is having a difficult time at home, as their father (Tatsuya Fuji) is interfering with his children’s studies, and his wife’s well being; or so he says. He is desperate to have their father move-in with Aya, even after she reveals she’s in a relationship. Eventually he admits defeat… or so he says. When she returns home, we’re introduced to the also titular, “Dad.” What follows is a series of connected events mostly centered around Aya and her father’s relationship and character development.
This film’s pacing, while slow, moves very naturally, and has a surprising amount of cinematic variety. There is variety in the shots used, types of humour implemented, and even the sound design. Another surprising area of variety is the storytelling itself. When we’re introduced to Mr. Ito, he seems like an almost unsettling person; a little scraggly, and without much personality. When he first discusses the strange current living arrangement with Aya however, we begin to see pieces of the character who will be revealed later in the film. This type of characterization is present with Aya and her father as well, but is much more pronounced with Mr. Ito. Aya grows throughout the film in many ways, from unhappy, suspicious, and even seemingly intentionally unlikable in certain ways; and progresses to a state where the final scene of the film displays a growth that had been occurring throughout the film slowly, but decidedly.
The film plays out in some ways, very much like a piece of theatre. Interconnected and sequential stories woven together of varying lengths, with different secondary and tertiary characters supporting Aya, and to some degree her father. And then there’s Mr. Ito. I mentioned that his characterization changes as the film progresses, and it is in this way the stage play type of story I saw in this film becomes the most clear. Mr. Ito in many ways becomes a benevolent fool, trickster ,or guide. His motives rarely stated outright, he at times seems innocent, earnest, and even oblivious, and at other times a character with immense wisdom. He never seems supernatural, or even inhuman, but there’s a factor of whimsy in his character that very much adds to the experience.
Despite being the title, the film actually has Mr. Ito and Aya’s father interact fairly seldomly. Despite this, their main scene together and moment of bonding over tools (to a somewhat baffled Aya) is one of the highlights of the film in my opinion; along with Aya’s day of espionage earlier on in the film, these vignettes contain a wonderful combination of humour and heart which characterize the film as a whole. Unfortunately, this play-like pacing is also perhaps one of the elements which may turn some off from the film, as it can feel like a longer movie than it is at times. Another detriment is unfortunately several of the side characters. While the principle three actors and characters are amazing and nuanced, the side characters are either bland, or exaggerated character tropes. While this helps elevate the main characters in some ways and was perhaps intended to keep from distracting from them; most of the time it does the opposite.
Although it contains some awkward and distracting scenes, and awkward pacing for a film; My Dad and Mr. Ito contains some quietly funny scenes, and should make for an enjoyable viewing experience. Despite the sometimes slow speed, the climax has some real emotional and even visual power; and the final moments are genuinely heartwarming with the perfect touch of ambiguity.