Ballad (Takashi Yamazaki, 2009) Japan

Reviewed by Jacqueline Gomez.  At the Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2010.

“Ballad,” directed by Takashi Yamazaki, tells the story of ten year old Schinichi in modern day Japan. Schinichi always rides his bike to school and is picked on and laughed at by his peers. His parents are always fighting and don’t seem like they have time for him. One day Schinichi is transported back in time to feudal Japan. He makes friends with samurais and a kind princess. He begins to find courage in himself and helps the ancient village to defeat an evil tyrant.

Ballad is an excellent film. The movie is character driven and essentially fueled by Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, the young actor that plays Schinichi, (Ninkyo Herupa). Kusanagi excels at the art of acting for his young age. His humor and wit always brought a smile to my face and he has an aurora of innocence that lights up the screen. Kisangani plays the role of Schinichi with heart. In one scene Princess Ren’s lover goes off in to battle without saying goodbye to her. Schinichi rushes after him and encourages him to give his farewells. The earnest grin and wide eyes adds to the delight and credibility of the film.

I have never seen a screenplay quite like Ballad. It does remind me a bit of “A Kid in King Arthur’s Court” which tells the tale of boy that goes back in time during the days of King Arthur and Sir Lancelot. While the two movies mirror the same general themes, Ballad’s heart, comical moments, and amazing cinematography is without compare. There are many original incidents in the screenplay that brought a smile to my face. For example, during one bloody battle scene Schinichi and his family drive their SUV through a confused crowd of samurai in order to protect their friends. While this event is of course fiction, the world of the movie is not broken, but rather, you find yourself cheering for Schinichi and his friends.

The Mis-en-scene is very inspiring. I love the way the gray world of modern day Japan contrasted to the golden world of feudal Japan. A beautiful shot of Princess Ren kneeling by a lake in her fuchsia kimono is continually seen as a dream throughout the film. A golden fill lights up the princess and the grass on the ground beside her. The elaborate sets of feudal Japan and detailed costumes makes the entire world very believable, despite a young boy with a mountain bike, jeans and a sweatshirt trailing along behind them.

The editing was quick. Going back and forth between the world of modern Japan and that of feudal Japan. Yet the clever editing techniques made perfect sense as the movie progresses. For example in one scene we see the mother reading a letter from her young son explaining that he is in feudal Japan. He hasn’t written the letter yet but directly in the next scene we see him doing so. Overall “Ballad” was a fun movie with heart. Schinichi’s wholesomeness is the spirit of the film and connects all the characters in the movie together at the end of the film.

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