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A Bride for Rip Van Winkle Review

A Bride for Rip Van Winkle is a Japanese drama about a timid young woman who experiences a unique emotional journey orchestrated by and for others.

There will be a significant barrier for many who set about to try and unravel the deeper meaning of Shunji Iwai‘s A Bride for Rip Van Winkle, a three-hour long odyssey that journeys a woman along a troubling path. It’s length aside, not unlike a Terrence Malick film, it drifts carefully forward with a purposeful, languid pace, its striking imagery making much that we witness not only haunting, but often bewildering. It’s a work of great personal passion that will surely divide its audience, but for those who demand more of their movies, is one not to be missed.

Nanami (Haru Kuroki) is a part-time school teacher whose meek voice gets her fired. She’s recently met a fellow teacher online, Tetsuo (Gô Jibiki), and the two almost immediately plan to marry, Nanami content to live as a housewife. Her family not well off and with so few relatives, to avoid embarrassment, she hires the help of a mysterious man named Amuro (Gô Ayano), whose unique company provides solutions to such problems. Not long after, she begins to suspect Tetsuo is cheating, and is visited by a man claiming to be the boyfriend of the woman. Calling Amuro for help again, her wedding secret is suddenly discovered by Tetsuo’s mother, who also is in possession of a video that seems to suggest that Nanami is the one having an affair. Set out on her own, Nanami is left to the streets of sorts, working where she can before she meets and befriends Mashiro Satonaka (Cocco), a woman of great opposites to Nanami, where the two develop a unique relationship of their own, however, not all things are as they seem, and everyone and everything in Nanami’s live are in question.

Based on Iwai’s own novel, A Bride for Rip Van Winkle is a film of many challenges, Iwai almost overcome by the details of Nanami’s story, lingering for extends moments on the routines of her life. He uses well-known classical music to stitch together the curious tapestry of all she encounters, leaving Nanami a sort of tender leaf caught in a breeze as there is not a force in her life that doesn’t have impact. We know well before Nanami does that things are not as she perceives them, those she trusts manipulating her with enigmatic intent. Iwai’s point is that Nanami accepts this, blindly, almost happy to have something, anything, guide her, even to unhappy places, certainly a commentary on the rigidity of Japanese social structures. This all makes for a near actionless experience, with characters speaking and moving with a kind of poetic ambition, and like poetry itself, sometimes impossible to decipher, especially as the film steadily deviants from normality the further it ventures to its end.

One’s tolerance for A Bride for Rip Van Winkle will depend entirely on expectations. Understanding that Nanami’s trippy journey is a sometimes painfully quiet one, where we are constantly asked to make connections and search for possibilities in the seeming abstractness of it all, might have some value, but there’s no denying the almost lurid appeal of what Iwai is doing. Fetish fans of such fantasies will certainly have plenty to pick over, as the movie eventually dresses Nanami in maid outfits and wedding dresses, she and Mashiro becoming part of a dreamlike sequence that extends over a line that was probably tread over well before the movie even started.

Both Kuroki and Cocco are highly compelling and are reason enough to stay with this adventure. Kuroki is very expressive despite the timidity of who Nanami is, from the way she enters a room to how she rings a hotel front desk bell. It’s a mesmerizing performance. Cocco brings counterweight to this, and is herself deeply affecting, even as we question everything that surrounds her.

A Bride for Rip Van Winkle will not be for everyone, that much is clear. It’s dark and jarring, stripped of convention and narrative familiarity. It is undoubtedly a struggle, but for many, a worthwhile one that should be truly impactful. Iwai has been doing this for a long time and those drawn to his work will surely obsess over the rich nuance and texture of his latest. It’s a beautiful, confounding, work of art.

A Bride for Rip Van Winkle Review

Movie description: A Bride for Rip Van Winkle is a Japanese drama about a timid young woman who experiences a unique emotional journey orchestrated by and for others.

Director(s): Shunji Iwai

Actor(s): Haru Kuroki, Cocco, Gô Ayano

Genre: Drama

  • Our Score