Far East Film Festival 20

Udine Italy April 20th/ April 28th 2018
The Film Festival For Popular Asian Cinema
Visionario, Via Asquini 33
Monday, April 24, time 3.00 PM


By date


By title



Considered a seminal manga artist in Japan, Tsuge Yoshiharu once occupied a countercultural niche in Japan similar to that of Robert Crumb in the United States, but was long little known abroad.
This is regrettable, but in commercial publishing terms, understandable. Tsuge’s work, which often concerns the wanderings of struggling artist types in the stranger reaches of Japan, had limited appeal to foreign boy fans into cool mecha and anime voluptuous babes. In Japan, however, his comics achieved classic status after he began publishing in Garo magazine in 1965. Several have been made into films and Tsuge himself appeared as a character in Ichikawa Jun’s 1996 Tokiwa: The Manga Apartment (Tokiwaso no Seishun).

Also exploring Tsuge’s world is Yamashita Nobuhiro with Ramblers (Riarizumu no Yado). Screened at the 2003 Toronto Film Festival, Ramblers is less a Tsuge homage than Yamashita’s own contemporary interpretation of his work. Tsuge’s world may resemble the Japan of his own youth (he was born in Tokyo in 1937), but with its flashes of surrealism and preference for odd backwaters, it has a timeless, dreamlike quality. Also, it was no easier in 2003 for unknown filmmakers – the job description of Yamashita’s two protagonists – than it was for unknown manga artists in the 1960s, especially if they lacked anything resembling ambition or the simplest of survival skills.

Yamashita’s heroes – the hulking, boyish Kinoshita (Yamamoto Hiroshi) and skinny, nerdish Tsuboi (Nagatsuka Keishi) – are still young enough to think of themselves as having a future – but are old enough to doubt what, if anything, that future might hold. Where other films based on Tsuge’s manga foregrounded coy pathos (Takenaka Naoto’s 1991 Nowhere Man) or erotic weirdness (Ishii Teruo’s 1993 Master of the Gensenkan Inn), Yamashita emphasizes the comedy particularly the way the boys discover they are the punchlines of a cosmic joke.
Based on Tsuge’s personal observations of how this joke unfolds in real life, the film may shamble rather than conventionally build, but by its third act the procession of perfectly timed, if understated, gags had this writer laughing on the beat.

True to Tsuge’s spirit, Ramblers also illustrates the loneliness of the human condition and the strangeness of the world. It does so in a very Japanese way, with more sympathetic humanism than satirical nihilism. Though Tsuboi and Kinoshita find themselves down to their last yen, they do not give into rage or despair. Wary of each other at first, they become brothers in defeat and misery – and come to laugh at the hopelessness of their situation.
They don’t know it, but when they arrive together at the train station of a provincial town they are doomed from the start. Tsuboi, a scriptwriter, and Kinoshita, a director, are supposed to meet Funaki (Yamamoto Takeshi) – an actor who wants to appear in their film. Funaki, however, doesn’t show and the boys set off to find accommodations.

They end up at an out-of-the-way inn where they enjoy lavish meals that quickly eat up their money. Desperate for something to do, they go fishing, but catch nothing. Then the inn’s master (Sunny Francis), a burly foreigner, offers them his catch – for a fee. More yen notes fly away. They talk desultorily about making a film together, but Funaki still doesn’t show.
On the beach they encounter a pretty girl (Ono Machiko) walking alone, who sets them to thinking of various scenarios. Was she jilted by a lover? Is she here to drown herself? Her name, they learn, is Atsuko and, having nothing better to do, she joins Kinoshita and Tsuboi in their wanderings. A romantic triangle of sorts develops, bringing out a new, idiotic competitiveness in the heroes. Tiring of the tug of war, Atsuko abruptly dumps them.
Now down to their last yen, they end up at a ramshackle inn that doubles as the owners’ family home. Here they begin their final descent into misery. Be prepared to commiserate – and laugh until you can’t breathe.
Mark Schilling
Film director: 
Yamashita Nobuhiro
Running time: 




  • Ramblers 00
  • Ramblers 01
  • Ramblers 02
  • Ramblers 03
  • Ramblers 04