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Not Forgotten (Makoto Shinozaki) 2002

 

    Makoto Shinozakiís weepy and weak-minded satire Not Forgotten opens with a flashback to World War II that suggests the film will have more potency than it ultimately does. Although the barrage of grenades and flame throwers that is thrown at the group of troops at the filmís start isnít quite traumatizing enough to make us feel the horror its participants still relive fifty years later, it helps us gain a bit of insight into their pasts. Itís a bit depressing then, that not a lot of screen time manages to do the same once the film settles in the present. 

    The plight of the old men that the film follows is played for laughs as often as itís taken seriously. Weíre supposed to giggle as we see an old veteran fake an illness to get a seat on a crowded bus, and while itís a funny concept, it seems a bit against the filmís message. The bulk of the plot is concerned with the nefarious misdoings of the Utopia Corporation, which uses video surveillance equipment to gain the information required to exploit the sorrow of Japanís elderly. Under the pretenses of psychic power, they tell the filmís group of old people that their dead relatives demand tribute to end their suffering.

 

    The unsubtle way that this obvious tearjerker attempts to align us against the corporation is almost unbearable. Shinozaki trots out dying spouses, cute kids, and ďSwing Low Sweet ChariotĒ in a treatment that leaves no heartstring untugged. It goes so far as to have Akutsu, the chairman of Utopia, compare the structure of his company to the Yakuza, in an attempt to justify his wrongdoing. Not Forgotten wants to suggest that no amount of money can heal the wounds that Japan incurred during World War II, and chastises the younger generation for its treatment of the warís veterans, but has no problem making us giggle at them when they attempt to function as younger adults. The courtship that one older character embarks on feels foolish instead of optimistic, and as a result much of the movieís concern feels phony.

     That the movie attempts to make us like even one of the bad guys (who was only forced to cheat the old folks after being downsized) is indicative of its unfortunate abundance of goodwill. Satire, and especially wide sweeping social satire, canít work if the director is constantly stopping to make sure no feelings were hurt along the way. The filmís most interesting moments get closer to the point of all this. The film is nearly captivating when it suggests a new, looser, corporate morality exists among the young, when a violent ending intrudes upon the filmís relative calm, much like the war must have disturbed the Japanese lifestyle, or when one character wonders what happens to memories after death. This scene, in particular, points to the filmís main underlying question of what will happen to the nationís memories of these heroes after their physical reminder leaves, but the vast majority of the running time is fixated upon the most obvious manipulation possible. I couldnít help but feel that the director was treating me no better than the Utopia corporation treated its protagonists, milking me for everything that I was worth. The veterans in the film are Not Forgotten at all, just exploited, and thatís indeed terribleÖ just not terribly entertaining.

 

 *1/2 

02-25-02 

Jeremy Heilman