Karakara is a joint Canada-Japan film, released on August 31, 2012. It was written and directed by Claude Gagnon and stars Gabriel Arcand, Youki Kudoh, and Megumi Tomita. At the 2012 Montréal World Film Festival, it won the Most Popular Canadian Feature Film award and the Openness to the World award, and was nominated for the Grand Prix des Amériques.
It’s an interesting film at many different levels. Visually, it’s most effective when it takes in the quaint homes and neighborhoods on the outer islands and small restaurants and shops that cater to the locals. The segment on the garment “factory” that continues to produce a fabric made from banana tree fiber using ancient methods is fascinating. The scenes of the city, beaches, ocean, tourist and historical sites, however, are routine and uniformly uninspiring.
The action and dialogues among the main actors is stiff and, for the most part, unnatural. Their development, as characters, is superficial and left me wanting. Despite these drawbacks, though, I couldn’t help but like them. Arcand is sympathetic, Kudoh is full of life, and Tomita is caring. In all three, there’s a warmth that transcends the film.
The other themes — the military presence on Okinawa, the spiritual nature of the place, the people, and their practices, the regenerative power of all three for people (like Arcand’s character) suffering from a sense of emptiness (symbolized by the karakara sound of an empty Okinawan wine server; kara means empty in Japanese) — also don’t quite make it in the film.
Still, despite the unevenness of the parts and the lack of integration in the whole, the 1 hour 41 minute film seems to move quickly and managed to hold my interest and attention throughout. Maybe it’s the almost casual approach to character development and plot that makes the film endearing, giving the whole a home-movie look and feel starring some of your closest friends.
Perhaps less reliance on dialogue to build the backstories and simply leaving the viewer to fill in the missing background via visual cues from the camera or silence in response to questions embedded in the dialogue would’ve created more depth. In this sense, I can’t help but wonder how a Japanese director might’ve interpreted this same script, with their usual heavy reliance on visual imagery and silences to convey the forces at play in characters.
If you’re interested in Okinawa or international film collaborations, Karakara is worth watching. It underscores the difficulty of creating a film that captures the interaction of two very different cultures in a way that’s natural, realistic, and profound. Most of these efforts are less than successful, resulting in one-dimensional fragments that don’t quite gel.