A Hundred Flowers – Hyakka (2022)
Directed by: Genki Kawamura | 104 minutes | drama | Actors: Mieko Harada, Yuka Itaya, Misuzu Kanno, Yumi Kawai, Yukiya Kitamura, Masami Nagasawa, Masatoshi Nagase, Keishi Nagatsuka, Amane Okayama, Masaki Suda
It is an increasing trend in the current film landscape: films about old age. Or to be more precise: films about the most fragile parts of old age, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. At first glance, this trend may sound strange; why would there be a growing interest in these kinds of films? Is mental decline in real life not heavy enough?
Yet this interest is somehow understandable. We are dealing with an increasingly aging population in the west and an increase in films that reflect this is more than logical. But there is also something else at play here. Movies about the ailments of old age generate a lot of attention through marketing campaigns. Especially when studios allow their actors to pose vulnerable in front of the poster, this seems to have a major influence on moviegoers. It does something to viewers when they see their favorite actors as people in need.
As a result, films about dementia and Alzheimer’s attract many viewers to the cinema. After the heartbreaking ‘Amour’ (Michael Haneke, 2012), with which the Austrian director won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for the second time, a range of similar films seemed to emerge. Suddenly there was ‘Still Alice’ (Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland, 2014), starring Julianne Moore, with which the celebrated Hollywood star won her long-awaited Oscar. Seven years later, acting legend Anthony Hopkins also grabbed Oscar gold again for his role in ‘The Father’ (Florian Zeller, 2020). And then there were a lot of other titles, all fairly variable in quality, but united in the pursuit of bringing in as much money as possible.
However, in the case of ‘A Hundred Flowers’, the first feature film by screenwriter/producer Genki Kawamura (he scored a huge hit in 2016 as producer of the anime ‘Your Name.’), we can hardly speak of a guaranteed financial success. The scope of this subdued film about dementia, in which actress Mieko Harada plays the leading role, will undoubtedly be much smaller than the aforementioned films. This Japanese print does not have a renowned director behind the steering wheel (‘Amour’) and does not really strive to be a crowd pleaser (‘Still Alice’). No, this film is a lot calmer in terms of set-up and presentation.
Where the aforementioned films mainly focus on the struggles of close relatives in connection with the gradual decline of their loved ones (‘The Father’ also possesses this aspect, but primarily offers a glimpse into the brain of a demented person through Hopkins), ‘A Hundred Flowers’ is primarily a film about resistance to mental decline. Not resisting this process, but rather ignoring it from an emotional point of view.
Yes, here it is the character of Izumi (Masaki Suda), a married man and father-to-be, who is confronted with his demented mother Yuriko (Harada) not entirely understanding. She still lives independently. Izumi has not had the best relationship with his mother since childhood and has been putting off his duties as a son for far too long by Japanese standards. Of course, we guess early in the film that he will eventually have to give in to his accountability to Yuriko, but to what extent he can come to terms with his declining mother is more difficult to determine.
‘A Hundred Flowers’ is civilized and empathetic. Mieko Harada is suitably melancholic in the lead role, but somehow lacks fire and spirit. The story unfolds like a foregone conclusion, and even the emotional stomach punch at the end isn’t entirely convincing: it’s all just a little too reserved and cautious. However, films like ‘A Hundred Flowers’ do find a modest audience, especially among art house aficionados. The camerawork is clever and inspiring, the characters are believable and the feelings are sincere (although actor Masaki Suda sometimes falls short in his more emotional scenes). This is a comfortable, even moving film at times, undermined by only one detail: there are many (bigger) competitors on the market.