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Friday, Jan. 11, 2008
'Giniro no Season'
Ski movie is all downhill as formulaic plot kicks in
Japan tries to sell itself as the land of cherry blossoms and Mount Fuji, but some of its best natural highs can be found on its ski slopes, as the world discovered at the 1972 Hokkaido and 1996 Nagano Winter Olympics.
I've skied in Hokkaido, Nagano and various points in between, though my ambition far outstrips my ability. I stare glassy-eyed at sports-bar ski videos, futilely trying to pick up pointers. In other words, Eiichiro Hasumi's skiing pic "Giniro no Season (The Silver Season)" ought to be just my sort of movie. And it is, sort of, when Hasumi's three ski-bum heroes tear a nearly vertical, unmarked trail, effortlessly attacking knee-deep powder and blasting fearlessly through the trees.
After this display of extreme skiing, the blond-streaked Yuji (Tetsuji Tama-yama) zips down snow-covered roofs, the frizzy-haired Juro (Munetaka Aoki) tries unsuccessfully to schuss across an unfrozen river and the spiky-haired Gin (Eita) paraskis over the bunny-slope masses, tossing out fliers for the trio's handyman business. It all looks like great, illicit fun, especially when the local business folk loudly condemn the boys for disturbing the resort's wa (harmony) or simply behaving like idiots.
But then the plot kicks in and the focus shifts to sports melodrama, a formula well defined back to the days of "Rocky." "Giniro" is also reminiscent of "Umizaru 2," Hasumi's 2006 blockbuster about a Japan Coast Guard diver's rescue of passengers, including his ex-fiancee, trapped on a sinking ferry. Both pics feature a do-or-die test for the buff, sporty hero, as well as a vexed relationship with a nonsporty girl. Even the climaxes are similar, as though Hasumi were playing variations on the same audience-grabbing chord.
Everything, from the boys-will-be-boys gags to the tender love scenes, gets the full-bore, ready-for-TV treatment, while the story is easy to follow even with the sound turned off — or wandering between the couch and the kitchen. "Giniro no Season" is emphatically for the domestic market, with the ladled-on sentimentality that local audiences love and foreign Asian film buffs mostly hate. I liked it well enough when the camera turned to the mountains or Rena Tanaka, the aforementioned love interest.
She plays Nanami, a city girl who has come to the Momoyama ski resort for her wedding, to be held in a specially built ice chapel in three days time. The local business folk, who are losing customers to a neighboring, trendier resort, see Nanami as a savior for the publicity her splashy — or rather snowy — nuptials will bring. One problem: The absent groom — still busy at work — is an expert skier, but Nanami herself is a total beginner.
Trying to learn on her own, she slides through a boundary fence and down a gully — and Gin goes gallantly to the rescue. Needing cash, he offers to teach her and she accepts.
Nanami, as the circling camera lovingly shows us, has the pale glow of a snow goddess — but on skis, she's hapless, tumbling again and again on a slope 3-year-olds have mastered. Gin's patience, not that great to begin with, is soon exhausted. Romance between these two seems as likely as an Olympic gold for poor, bruised Nanami.
But there is still much we (and the characters) don't know, including Gin's aborted career as a champion mogul skier and Nanami's real reason for coming to Momoyama.
Kenji Bando's original screenplay is ingeniously constructed, but its arc is clear enough once we understand these and a few other points, at least if we've seen "Rocky" and its umpteen million imitators.
Despite the predictable third act, "Giniro no Season" kept me watching to the end, but all I needed to keep me riveted — and think of all the skiing I was missing — was the occasional shot of the soaring peaks of Hakuba, where the movie was filmed. See you on the slopes, Hazumi-san, if not in the theater.