Despite a tendency to veer from its comedic points and idle along familiar stretches of plot, JUTAI is a bittersweet examination of family ties that bind but unravel due to distances both physical and emotional.
After slaving for his company, a husband (Kenichi Hagiwara) is rewarded with a few days' downtime. Packing up his devoted wife (Hitomi Kuroki), daughter (Ayako Takarada), and son (Shingo Yazawa), he heads for his island hometown and the elderly parents who eagerly await his return. Trying to
economize by driving instead of flying, the beleaguered family are caught in a traffic tie-up of epic proportions. Nerves fray as hotel accommodations are non-existent on this holiday weekend. The family keenly feels each new unplanned-for set-back as lost time that could have been spent with the
grandparents who have spared no expense in anticipation of their arrival. After being ripped off for a parking fee due to sleeping in their car overnight, the husband tears into his wife for inefficient map-reading that steers them off course. Several near-accidents later, the husband blows a fuse
and walks out temporarily. More time is wasted as the son becomes ill. Despite the erosion of allotted trip time, the father decides to complete the abortive journey and enjoy at least a few hours with his disappointed parents. Although the vacation has been altered by unforeseen circumstances,
the family still treasures their too-brief bonding with the husband's aged parents.
Ambitiously indicting both the lack of spontaneity in contemporary Japanese culture and its age-old patriarchal biases, JUTAI is alternately a comic odyssey about modern times and a melancholy flip through an album of family pictures. At times recalling TWO FOR THE ROAD (1967), this gentle dramedy
also delves into the marital tensions that rise to the surface when everyone is at their worst behavior; every insult exchanged is really a payback for some repressed emotion the couple is afraid to handle directly. It seems ungenerous to carp about JUTAI's drawbacks given that the American
equivalent would be a vulgar road flick like NATIONAL LAMPOON'S VACATION (1983), but the film does suffer from slack direction and repetition of incidents. If the filmmaker desired to set a rhythm with these variations on a theme, he doesn't fully succeed.
In place of the bigger laughs that sharper pacing might have ensured, JUTAI concentrates on character; its finest achievements lie in documenting how unfairly the husband blames his wife for each incident he can't control and in conveying the parents' unquenchable yearning to touch base with their
distant son. Pointing a satiric finger at a universe rushing too fast to take stock of the tolls progress extracts, JUTAI explores the dissolution of the family unit. This is a deeply felt film about literal and figurative distances people must bridge; in a happy ending, not only do the relatives
enjoy a reunion, but also the husband and wife symbolically find their way back home to each other. (Adult situations.)
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