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Movie Reviews : 'Wilderness' Falls Short As A Peak Experience

October 17, 1986|KEVIN THOMAS | Times Staff Writer

"Lost in the Wilderness" (at the Kokusai) celebrates two cherished Japanese themes: the triumph of sheer determination and the nobility of selfless love. The film's real-life hero, the late, dauntless mountain climber and wilderness adventurer, Naomi Uemura, supplies the first; his wife, Kimiko, whose husband was absent for months at a stretch, represents the second.

Clearly, there's an unusual love story here. The man conquered the highest peaks on five continents and then turned Arctic and Antarctic explorer--and once thoughtlessly told a reporter that his sled dogs were more important to him than his wife. The woman admits that no other man ever proposed to her, yet knows in her heart that she is genuinely loved.

Unfortunately, director Junya Sato and his co-writer Yoshiki Iwama, working from Uemura's memoirs, have chosen a strictly conventional approach to both their hero's exploits and his romance. "Lost in the Wilderness" becomes tedious long before its grueling 140 minutes are over.

The couple, at least, are three-dimensional. Toshiyuki Nishida's Uemura is a stocky, shy, clumsy yet deeply emotional fellow who says there's "no room" for him in Japan and that he must embrace the wilderness to feel truly alive.

Accomplished actress that she is, Chieko Baisho makes of Kimiko more an accepting realist than sacrificial martyr; you come to understand her love for the husband she so seldoms sees.

For all the grandeur of its remote, icy locales, "Lost in the Wilderness" (Times-rated Family) can't begin to compare with that documentary of a decade ago, Isao Zaniya's "The Man Who Skied Down Mt. Everest," a dazzling visual treat conceived by Lawrence Schiller that was also a mystic celebration of man's communion with nature. The spiritual ecstasy we experience with skier Yuichiro Miura in that film is precisely what's lacking here.

"Lost in the Wilderness" is the final offering of the Kokusai Theater, which closes Oct. 30 after presenting Japanese films for more than 30 years. For the first time since the '20s, excepting the World War II years, Los Angeles will be without a Japanese-language theater. But the Kokusai's proprietor, Moto Yokoyama, hopes to relocate in a twin theater in Little Tokyo in December. The Kokusai, which opened in the '40s as the Crenshaw, has been sold to the West Angeles Christian Church.

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