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Friday, Dec. 14, 2012
'Gummo Ebian! (G'mor Evian!)'
Teen angst vs. a young-at-heart punk mom
When teenagers see their parents goofing around or generally not acting their ancient age, they often react with embarrassment, scorn or the fervent wish that these so-called adults would just grow up. Then inevitably, not long later, those sophisticated 15-year-olds are goofing around themselves — acting their age. Unless, that is, the teenager is Hatsuki (Ayaka Miyoshi), the heroine of Toru Yamamoto's comedy "Gummo Ebian! (G'mor Evian!)."
Hatsuki's former-punk-guitarist mom, Aki (Kumiko Aso), is still as fun-loving and convention-defying as when she had Hatsuki at age 17 — though she looks the pulled-together businesswoman when she leaves in the morning for work. Her daughter, on the other hand, diligently shops, cooks, cleans and otherwise plays the grown-up in her single-parent house.
And though Hatsuki and her mother are best buddies, she is starting to question their happy-go-lucky lifestyle, while longing for the seemingly safe, normal existence of her bubbly best friend Tomo-chan (Rena Nonen).
Then Yagu (Yo Oizumi), the vocalist in Aki's band and Hatsuki's sort-of step-dad — who lit out for parts unknown two years ago — suddenly reappears in their lives, frizzy-haired and fizzy like a cartoon character high on energy drinks. An annoyed Hatsuki has another adult-kid on her hands.
Working from a novel by Toriko Yoshikawa, Yamamoto and scriptwriter Kenichi Suzuki build on the mental-age-reversal premise with wit and heart, though the story's eventual destination is no surprise. They not only frame it from Hatsuki's perspective, but make her and her unusual family more complex than local comic formula demands.
The entire film, in fact, is superlatively well-constructed and well-acted, despite its episodic storyline and sitcom-esque situations. The plot is little more than one important arrival (Yagu's) and one important departure (which I will not detail), but in the process Hatsuki learns what family and friendship mean (which is not society's usual definition), as well as how to think of others instead of always and forever herself. That is, she herself starts to grow up.
For all the familiarity of this story, there is nothing preachy or cliched in the telling of it. Hatsuki and Aki finally have a big heart-to-heart, just like countless daughters and mothers on the big screen and small, but instead of the usual dramatics they are unaffectedly natural and open with each other. Aso as Aki is particularly good in this scene, speaking with a directness that is without sentimentality, if not genuineness of feeling.
Newcomer Miyoshi plays Hatsuki as a typical adolescent bundle of contradictions: sweet and charming one moment, cool and even cruel the next. She aces the tests of her strait-laced English teacher (Eiko Koike) and impresses a hip flea-market worker (Anna Tsuchiya) with her taste in punk rock, but is neither a grind nor a rebel.
As Yagu, Oizumi, who also starred in last year's hit "Tantei wa Bar ni Iru (Phone Call to the Bar)," clowns broadly for laughs, but he also knows when to dial it back. When Hatsuki cries bitter tears of regret, Yagu responds sincerely and wisely — and we see that he is more than he seemed at (admittedly annoying) first glance. We don't hear his full story until the end, though he has been implying it with every word and gesture from the beginning.
"G'mor Evian!" (which is Yagu's version of saying "Good morning, everyone" in an Australian accent) is feel-good entertainment, but it also feels true to its own gently skewed version of life. Yagu and Aki finally prove they can rock, still punks in their fourth decade and counting. And what's wrong with that?