By Alex Purnell. In a tiny flat with his mother and father, twenty-something Kazuhiko (Yoji Minagawa) is somewhat of a drifter. Our first introduction of Kazuhiko is around a tiny dining table with his family, the trios conversational topics don’t span further than that of food and Kazuhiko’s job hunting. Overqualified yet horrifically unconfident, Kazuhiko gravitates towards highschool friend Yuri (Mebuki Yoshida), seemingly the only person interested in the reserved young man. After a brief encounter at a local bathhouse, Yuri suggests that he should get a job there, so he can see more of her.
Painfully shy yet hard to wrap your head around, the character of Kazuhiko is what makes this film unique. His reserved demeanour and severe lack of social skills are initially awkward and difficult to understand. It’s his relationship with Yuri that slowly draws him out of his shell. A Tokyo University graduate, he is always pestered or almost mocked at his position in the bathhouse, although he doesn’t seem to mind, and instead flourishes in his place of work.
As the romantic duo grow to like each other, you could fool yourself into believing this was a quirky romance.
Yet underneath the humble premise of a public bathhouse, grizzly assassinations take place for the Yakuza, and young Kazuhiko just happens to stumble in on it. Next things next, our young protagonist just trying to live day to day gets hurled into the world of gory murders and is enlisted to clean up the bloody mess left behind. The strange thing about Melancholic is that the characters make this feel comfortably normal. Kazuhiko initially jumps at this opportunity due to its financial benefits, but when co-worker Akira (Yoshitomo Isozaki) gets involved, Kazuhiko becomes almost jealous of his involvement, putting his own wealth above his morality.
Its steady pace feels flatlined, apart from a couple of out-of-place feeling action sequences, the film feels strangely uneventful in a day-to-day, normal life kind of way. The normality of Kazuhiko’s life despite his new chaotic career feels secure. It’s also strange to have a well-educated character life Kazuhiko not care about his career in Japan’s insanely competitive and pressurised culture, his reserved attitude almost definitely attributes to his odd career choice, with his family playing a surprisingly passive role within the young man’s life.
Even towards the end of the feature with its dramatical peak, there’s a strange calmness which gives the film an almost eerie edge but can drag on and feel more empty than anything. It doesn’t feel like there’s a consistent main narrative as it juggles Kazuhiko’s work and love-life with little to no discourse except a forgettable Yakuza mob-boss whom our protagonist has no interaction with.
Although Melancholic had a lot of potential, it does flounder and feels bloated with its strange outlook. For the most part, it is an enjoyable drama piece with a gruesome underbelly, but it doesn’t feel very exciting, and with a nearly 2 hour run time it does seem to drag like a corpse.
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