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Parenthood aspirations in sly, absorbing 'Hush!'

November 08, 2002|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

"Hush!," from writer-director-editor Ryosuke Hashiguchi, is deceptively simple yet evolves to create one surprise after another. What starts out as a story about a gay couple meeting and falling in love, and a young woman who decides she wants to bear a child, ends up revealing the conservative streak in the Japanese psyche.

Hashiguchi covers this territory with wit and originality, suggesting that with his fourth feature -- the first to be released in the U.S. -- a major director is emerging in world cinema. In this absorbing film Hashiguchi moves from the sly to the profound with ease and assurance.

Hashiguchi deftly introduces his three principals, cutting back and forth, until they all eventually meet. Seiichi Tanabe's Katsuhiro, the pivotal character, is a Tokyo research engineer, so deeply closeted that he cannot bring himself to discourage the attentions of a pretty co-worker.

Kazuya Takahashi's Naoya could not be more different. A pet shop employee, he's a completely out gay man, attractive and into one-night stands.

Katsuhiro and Naoya would seem to confirm the old truth that opposites attract, and their relationship grows serious. Pointing out that gay relationships rarely last, Naoya has long decided that children are out of the question -- he must be prepared for eventually going it alone in life. Katsuhiro, however, cannot help but imagine what it might be like to be a father, which plays into Asako's (portrayed by Reiko Kataoka) desire to find a suitable sperm donor.

Nearing 30, Asako is a free-thinking, hard-living dental lab technician who has known lots of casual sex but little love or affection. Single motherhood, she concludes, is the answer, but a sperm bank is too impersonal an answer for her.

Were these three living in any sizable city in America, there would be little problem. But it's Japan, and neither man has a clear idea of how Asako could possibly conceive outside of sexual intercourse. By the time Asako has convinced them that there are other ways, events in Katsuhiro's life make the lives of all three more complicated.

Hashiguchi asks much of his cast; the actors sustain extended sequences of emotional depth and shifts in mood. The director is alert to the comic absurdities that erupt in the most wrenching outbursts of anger. Yet as unafraid as Hashiguchi is of the long dramatic scene, he is a cinematic director, with a sense of the expressive power of spatial relationships among his people reminiscent of the master of this technique, Yasujiro Ozu.

Hashiguchi is also adept at capturing the seeming contradictions of his people. Katsuhiro is far more shy and conforming than the uninhibited Naoya, yet he's also the more intellectually sophisticated. He's more open-minded and not so quick to draw distinctions between what is conventionally thought to be gay and straight. Yet because Naoya is more self-accepting than Katsuhiro, he is able to take the leap of faith that love demands.

The rebellious, defiant Asako discovers she yearns for the traditional role of motherhood. The odyssey of self-discovery these three embark upon is intensified by the claustrophobia of everyday existence in crowded Tokyo. Bobby McFerrin's wry original score and songs (in English) complement the shifting moods of Hashiguchi's characters.

Most important, "Hush!" is like Chinese director Stanley Kwan's recent "Lan Yu" in that a gay romance becomes but a starting point for an all-encompassing view of human behavior. If both films are concerned with love and mortality, they also raise questions of values and priorities in a changing society. If ever there were two contemporary films in which it was possible to perceive the universal in the particular, it would be these two outstanding accomplishments of today's Asian cinema.



MPAA rating: Unrated.

Times guidelines: Complex adult themes, sexual content, language.

Seiichi Tanabe...Katsuhiro

Kazuya Takahashi...Naoya

Reiko Kataoka...Asako

A Strand Releasing presentation of a Siglo production. Writer-director-editor Ryosuke Hashiguchi. Producer Tetsujiro Yamagami. Cinematographer Shogo Ueno. Music Bobby McFerrin. Production designer Fumio Ogawa. In Japanese, with English subtitles. Running time:

2 hours, 15 minutes.

Exclusively at the Fairfax Cinemas, Beverly Boulevard at Fairfax Avenue; (323) 655-4010.

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