HIFF Review: ‘Sake-Bomb’

Oct. 11, 2013 | 0 Comments

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REVIEW BY JACQUELYN CARBERRY / jcarberry@staradvertiser.com

The idea that opposites attract provides the basis for many comedy-duo pairings, and for the actors of the buddy road flick “Sake-Bomb,” the formula is in place once again.

Gaku Hamada serves as sweet country boy Naoto from Japan and Eugene Kim is his brash American cousin Sebastian from L.A., who doesn’t take the time to understand the unassuming Naoto, not even with a little prodding from his father, Takinori (Hiroyuki Wata­nabe).

‘SAKE-BOMB’

New American Filmmakers

Hawaii Premiere

Screens at 7:15 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12, and 5 p.m. Oct. 18 at Regal Dole Cannery Stadium 18; also 9:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 13, at Consolidated Koko Marina 8

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Will the cousins eventually squash their differences and come to appreciate each other as time goes along? Of course. This a cheery, feel-good film, after all. The road flick, as everyone watching it will know, is never about the destination but about the journey. And this journey is lovingly shot and bathed in some gorgeous light to boot.

Naoto is in the process of taking over the sake business his boss has passed on to him. The 20-something has one week to relax and enjoy life before taking on his new responsibilities; he decides to head to America in the hopes of meeting up with his English teacher turned lover, Olivia, who suddenly left Japan and headed back to her home in Petaluma, Calif., without giving any explanation.

Sebastian becomes Naoto’s unwilling co-pilot, dragged along on the trip to Northern California to help out his cousin at the insistence of his father, a noble romantic who reminisces about his own Olivia from back in the day — a girl named Hillary, whom he still thinks about in a I-wonder-what-might-have-been way.

The recently dumped Sebastian digs in his heels about going on the trip and goes as far as trying to ditch his cousin at a bus stop, but then decides to drive his cousin to Petaluma after all. Sebastian isn’t being completely selfless, deciding to stop in Irvine to see his ex-girlfriend along the way.

Soon Naoto’s transformation from naive boy to someone older and wiser begins while abrasive Sebastian shifts from ironic hipster to a sad sack of a man, bent on trying to win his uninterested girlfriend back.

Like the road trip they’re on, the tempo of “Sake-Bomb” shifts and changes, hitting some bumps in the first third of the movie before picking up speed the rest of the way. It’s a rough introduction in particular to Kim’s character Sebastian. The movie is mostly a pleasant, enjoyable ride as though it’s in cruise control, and as the scenes unfold, the characters develop.

“Sake-Bomb” is a quirky film directed by Junya Sakino, and has more going for it than not. While the script geared at 20- and 30-somethings is perfectly fine with a few surprises, the lead actors feel a little forced in their roles at first with Kim’s and eventually Hamada’s performances coming across as a bit overreaching; other actors also suffer the same fate.

A scene in which Sebastian tried to pass off his cousin as having Asperger’s syndrome is particularly cringe-worthy, both for the acting and general distastefulness of the scene. Every scene is played for laughs and they don’t always work, with the exception of the duo’s encounter with a racist cop.

The most interesting element to Sebastian’s character is his self-appointed work as an online crusader against Asian stereotypes, a worthy goal. But Kim never quite comes off as the blunt, angry (and self-hating in this case) young man he is playing, but as a self-conscious actor playing a role. Rather, Kim is at his best when playing down and out.

While Hamada seems more natural in his role as shy country boy Naoto, it’s hard to believe that his character has never heard of blogging, doesn’t own a cellphone, or isn’t acquainted with any other trappings of this century. It could be that Naoto isn’t from the countryside but another planet. But these characters (although a bit one-dimensional) and the actors grow on you. Just don’t expect too much growth in return.

With so few films starring Asians except as character or supporting actors in Western culture, it’s nice to see a sincere attempt at putting Asian actors and Asian-American culture in the spotlight — even if it’s in the form of one angry American and his clueless cousin.
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