The thorny thickets of race, culture and family collide in debut filmmaker Aaron Woolfolk’s imperfect but ultimately moving tale of an American man who, in the wake of his estranged son’s untimely death, makes a pilgrimage to Japan (the site of his accident) to unravel the secrets he left behind. Unusual subject matter and lack of recognizable talent (outside a cameo by executive producer Danny Glover) will likely hamper the ability of microdistributor Eleven Arts to garner enough screens for a long enough period of time for word of mouth to really catch fire—though long-term prospects, particularly on cable and pay-TV, look promising.
While still mourning his son Mickey’s (Victor Grant) death, successful photographer Daniel Holder (Bennet Guillory) discovers that his son—a black man—had secretly wedded a young Japanese woman named Noriko (Saki Takaoka). The discovery and a fierce determination to recover the estranged boy’s paintings lead Holder to Japan where he searches for closure, only to discover just how little he really knew his own son.
Writer/director Aaron Woolfolk based much of the film on his own experiences as a black American teaching English in Japan. His acclaimed student films—both made in 1999—dealt with the same subject, effectively paving the way for his feature debut a full decade earlier. The result—independently financed with American and Japanese money—is impressively polished for its low budget, and ultimately quite moving despite sometimes turgid pacing and occasionally staid staging. Whether intentional or not, the film feels very much in the Douglas Sirk vein of social melodrama—a somewhat anachronistic tonal peculiarity that may find rough going with contemporary audiences, both mainstream and arthouse alike. To Woolfolk’s credit, however, the picture’s clunkier moments never manage to derail what is, ultimately, a strong story rooted in honest emotions.
Supporting Japanese cast members are particularly strong—notably Takaoka and the wonderful Misa Shimizu—lending a vital cultural and geographical authenticity to its sensitive emotional landscape.
Distributor: Eleven Arts
Cast: Bennet Guillory, Saki Takaoka, Misa Shimizu, Danny Glover, Victor Grant and Sakura Thomas.
Director/Screenwriter: Aaron Woolfolk
Producers: Ko Mori and Aaron Woolfolk
Running time: 120 min.
Release date: March 12 NY, March 26 LA