Sometimes you think everything is going to be alright, but then several calamities arrive all at once. Down on his luck film director and stay at home dad Takashi has only been able to get one film made so far and it doesn’t look good for another any time soon. Right now he’s spending some time apart from his wife and daughter - his elder brother Wataru is ill with colon cancer and as his brother never married, both their parents are dead and they have no other family, so Takashi has gone to look after him. However, Wataru is anything but grateful and proceeds to mope about the house repeatedly asking when Takashi plans to go home.
When he finally does go home, Takashi’s wife realises she liked it better when he wasn’t there and asks for a divorce. With nowhere else to go except back to Wataru’s, a confused and heartbroken Takashi goes home to Gunma where he reconnects with his screenwriting partner who’s finally met a girl through Internet dating. Persuaded to come on a double date, Takashi strikes up a friendship with Ryoko despite still harbouring hopes for a reconciliation with his wife. No job, no home, no wife - what does the future hold for a mild mannered man like Takashi?
Like last year’s Raindance highlight And the Mudship Sails Away, Obon Brothers stars Kiyohiko Shibukawa, though this “Takashi” is a little more sympathetic than the completely apathetic character from Watanabe’s film. With a sort of gentleness of spirit, Takashi is the sort of person who enjoys taking care of others like his ailing brother and cute little daughter and is just as happy keeping house as anything else. For his wife, his passivity becomes a major issue as she finds herself taking on a more independent role and comes to feel she needs someone with more drive at her side rather than the meek Takashi who’s content just muddling through.
Indeed, just muddling through ends up becoming an accidental theme of the film. Every morning, Takashi stops at the local shrine, throws a coin in the donation box and prays for everything to work out…and then goes home and waits for things to happen. However, things don’t just happen no matter how much you want and pray for them - at the end of the day you have to put the effort in which goes for all things in life from marriages to friendships and careers. If anybody gets anything at all out of Takashi’s religious practices, it’s ironically the older brother Wataru who thinks all this religious stuff is hokum - even going so far as to urinate into a sacred pond!
Also like Watanabe’s And the Mudship Sails Away, Obon Brothers is shot in black and white with a preference for long takes and static camera. Consequently it has an innately sophisticated indie comedy feeling which, coupled with its naturalistic tone, bring a kind of warmth and familiarity that it’s hard to resist. Though the film touches on some heavy themes - cancer, the breakdown of a marriage - it treats them all with a degree of matter-of-factness that never lets them overshadow the main narrative. After all, these things happen and life carries on while they do.
A loving tribute to the prefecture of Gunma from which many of the cast and crew originate including the director Akira Osaki, scriptwriter Shin Adachi and leading actor Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Obon Brothers has more than a little autobiographical content though it doesn’t reflect the actual circumstances of any of the creative team’s lives. It’s a gentle comedy, though one with shades of darkness creeping in around the edges, and moves at an equally gentle pace which gives you ample time to see into these characters and their lives. Ohsaki’s camera is unjudgemental - it gives equal sympathy and understanding to everyone and even the eventual end of Takashi’s marriage is accomplished with the utmost amicability. Whether or not Takashi has actually changed very much by the end of the film or has just gained a little more knowledge about who he is as a person, Obon Brothers gives you the feeling that it’s alright to start all over again - even if you’re just muddling though.
Obon Brothers was screened as part of the 23rd Raindance Film Festival in 2015