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Film Review: A Bride For Rip Van Winkle Is A Three Hour Dark Fairytale

Synopsis: Nanami is an apathetic, part-time junior high school teacher, whose only solace comes from connecting with others on “Planet,” a new social network service. One day, a young man named Tetsuya messages her and asks to meet in person. The two begin dating and quickly become engaged. When Tetsuya begs Nanami to increase her guest list for the wedding, Nanami reaches out to her online friend, Amuro, a self-proclaimed jack-of-all-trades, who hires actors to play Nanami’s guests on her big day. A few weeks following the ceremony, Tetsuya’s mother confronts Nanami with allegations of lying and cheating. Heartbroken and despondent, Nanami checks herself into ahotel and manages to get hired there as a maid. One day, Amuro offers Nanami a house-keeping job in an old mansion, whose sole resident’s infectious spirit helps Nanami to open her heart. However, Nanami soon realizes that Amuro, the mansion, and its occupant aren’t what they seem – and even dreams have their limits.

Directed by Shunji Iwai, A Bride For Rip Van Winkle is three hours strange, imaginative story-telling, and a commentary on how social media has become another platform for societal norms to be imposed or impressed. This macabre art-work glooms over audiences like a shadow, but, through its noir feel, its characters and actors are able to shine to ask a poignant question: Why do we shut ourselves out?

In this world, a person can be socially disqualified from entering a space because they are “too nice”, “too lame”, “too smart”, or, in general, “too something”. The point is we all have a “place” or a batch of “persons that will put up a “Do Not Enter” sign in their heart for us, but we follow them in putting up the sign towards ourselves is where Haru Kuroki’ s Nanami Minagawa becomes a gripping protagonist. She is meek and easily taken according to others plans. She comes across several characters, her righteously, reprimanding husband Tetsuya (Gô Jibiki), the hiddenly nefarious Amuro (Gô Ayano), and the intriguingly manic Cocco (Mashiro Satonaka) feel like the three stages into Nanami’ growth from plain, junior High-school teacher to self-assured and insightful human being. With each character she faces new trials and aspects of herself that she, seemingly, quiets until they splurge out of her. Throughout all this, the film is paced like a simmer, which is why it feels like a fairytale. Iwai creates like they are steps in an enchanted forest, of which some feel like passable trees on your path that, eventually, lead to gorgeous or unwelcoming sights. Yet, I marvel at the pace and cinematography’s darker feel because it is not easy to grab an audience for 3 hours with a grim take, but that is where the beauty of Nanami’s self-discovery comes in.

For me the shining moment in Nanami’s journey is her chaotic, somber, and subtly elegant bond with Cocco. Satonaka’s performance is like a lightning bolt. Although it is brief in comparison to the many layers and extents of the film, you peer into her every move and motivation. Why? Because while other characters, particularly male, plot and poke Nanami’s fragility, Cocco is the only one that shares it, which is why their weird, slightly love story feels gorgeously doomed. Having this bond happen around the middle of the film revives  and pieces it together to feel like a giant scope on the many outlandish and real ways a life can change, hopefully, for the better. In addition, it shows that, sometimes, it is women supporting or, rather, opening themselves to other women and their journey that helps them better discover themselves. Bride For Rip Van Winkle Opens In Cinemas On November 10.