HIFF Review: ‘The Kiyosu Conference’

Oct. 18, 2013 | 0 Comments

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REVIEW BY JASON S. YADAO / jyadao@staradvertiser.com

There are comedies where the humor is in-your-face slapstick funny, and then there are comedies that are more nuanced and subtle in their humor, drawing from naturally absurd personalities that arise in daily life.

‘THE KIYOSU CONFERENCE’

Spotlight on Japan

United States Premiere

Screens at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20, at Regal Dole Cannery Stadium 18

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Koki Mitani’s latest film, “The Kiyosu Conference,” falls squarely in the latter camp, with a healthy dose of historical drama thrown in for good measure. Fans and students of the Sengoku/Warring States era of Japanese history will find much to love with this film, which opens with Nobunaga Oda’s suicide and segues into the five-day conference convened to find a successor to lead the Oda clan.

The film is certainly broad in scope. Mitani used four studios at Toho Studios to recreate Kiyosu Castle in all its 16th-century glory, then cast 26 of Japan’s top actors to play various Oda family dignitaries and associates. Keeping track of such a sprawling cast can be a rather daunting task for those unfamiliar with Japanese history, but boiling the film down to its essence reveals two key factions.

One faction, championed by Nobunaga’s chief vassal Katsuie Shibata (played by Koji Yakusho) and Nobunaga’s younger sister Oichi (Kyoka Suzuki), want to stay the course and pick someone who will follow through on the dream to unite all of Japan. They’re the more serious of the factions. The other faction, however, has a rather formidable leader: Tokichiro (Yo Suzuki), champion of the common folk, hero for killing the man who led the uprising that led to Nobunaga’s death in the first place, and the man who would later change his name to Hideyoshi Hashiba and rise to power in his own right. While Tokichiro is regarded by many as a “monkey,” there’s definitely a diamond-sharp mind that lies beneath his easygoing, fun-loving demeanor. Most of the film’s lighthearted scenes emerge from this camp.

It may take a fair amount of concentration to keep everyone straight, but watching the political intrigue unfold over the course of the conference is fascinating. The leaders plot. They scheme. They form alliances. They run capture-the-flag races. (Hey, even leaders plotting the course of their clan’s future need some leisure time.) And when they finally do pick a leader — who, fair warning, is probably not who you’d expect — you get the sense that, yes, things really are looking up for the Oda clan.

Or, if you know your Japanese history, you’ll know that the end sets in motion the beginning of something else.

Either way, it’s an entertaining historical piece.
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