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  • Benjamin May

Hole in the Sky (2001) Review

Ichio works at a rest stop somewhere in Hokkaido. He lives with his father, who goes on a road trip, leaving him in charge of the business. Takeo is abandoned by her boyfriend on the side of the road with only the clothes on her back. Ichio and Takeo were never destined to meet, but do anyway, forming an unexpectedly profound relationship that may or may not stand the test of time in this bitter-sweet, quiet film from Kazuyoshi Kumakiri.

Based on a novel by Randy Taguchi, 'Hole in the Sky' finds Susumu Terajima starring as Ichio, a disillusioned man whose mother unexpectedly left his father to raise him alone when he was a boy. She never returned, and Ichio has never gotten over the loss, carrying the weight of despair on his shoulders. He meets Taeko- played by Rinko Kikuchi- and begins to feel hope again for the first time in a long time.

Terajima is arguably one of the most underappreciated actors working today. Generally consigned to supporting parts, he brings a gentle ease and assuredness to even the smallest role that leaves a lasting impression. His understated, natural style of acting is most fitting for Ichio, and Terajima imbues the character with an air of melancholy that is most affecting and believable. 'Hole in the Sky' is an atmospheric slow burn- at times there is very little dialogue. Terajima's powerful screen presence says much without his having to utter a word; and he carries the film masterfully.

Kikuchi co-stars as the abandoned Taeko, delivering a performance just as strong as her Oscar nominated one in 'Babel.' Introverted, forlorn, she is a lost soul drifting through Hokkaido with no real direction in mind. She and Ichio find some sense of comfort being with one another- at least for a while- and she and Terajima play off one another wonderfully. They may not be in love, but they do seem to need each other- for the time being anyway. Also, in a supporting role as Terajima's father stars Bunmei Tobayama, who has little to do but does it very well.

The story is as unexpected and open to interpretation as the relationship between the leads. Some might find the film a little hard to follow, as it relies on mood and atmosphere as much as dialogue to communicate the narrative. The stark but striking cinematography from Kiyoaki Hashimoto and Takahide Shibanushi reinforces and informs the tone of silent despair and longing in the film, and there are some beautiful shots within 'Hole in the Sky.' The score- from Akainu and Akira Matsumoto- is well-balanced and melodic, contributing to the aforementioned atmosphere and tone in scenes but never overshadowing them.

'Hole in the Sky' is a technical and creative achievement on every level. Well-written, atmospheric and strongly acted, the film is moving and unpredictable. Susumu Terajima and Rinko Kikuchi deliver measured, complex performances and Kumakiri's restrained direction holds everything together nicely. It may be a slow burn, but it's one that contains embers of universal human truth that will warm the heart of any viewer.


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