Dir:Shinji Aoyama. Japan.2001.131mins

After winning the International Critics Award at Cannes last year for his remarkable Eureka, a lot was expected of Shinji Aoyama, a young director who clearly has it in him to make waves outside his home country. Perhaps too much, since Desert Moon strives too hard to be significant and, instead of telling a good story straight, is constantly nudging us in case we fail to understand its relevance. Consequently, a film which might have been as impressive often irritates with its desire to underline everything several times over, limiting its commercial prospects. Eureka, the story of the kidnapping of a busload of children and the consequent effect on their lives, never preached. Desert Moon scarcely stops doing so. The wide gap between the two films is a direct consequence of that.

Nagai, the protagonist, is a successful information age businessman who is beginning to realise that his firm was unwise to go public. Now he is at the beck and call of nervous shareholders and the Asian recession is hitting hard. A workaholic, he has already been traumatised by the fact that his wife has left him and taken the child he adores with her. He tries to keep their memory alive by constantly watching home videos of happier times.

Attempting to find her and prevent his business going bankrupt at the same time,he engages Keechie,a complete stranger, to help him look for his family. Keechie, hardened by a life on the streets, will do anything for money and he eventually finds Akira,Nagai's wife, now drinking heavily and happy to fall for the idea that Keechie is a male prostitute who services frustrated wives.She allows him to seduce her for money,not realising that Nagai is already paying him a small fortune.

She has lost faith in her husband and all he represents and decides to return to her former home in the country, where everything seems to be the same as before.Keechie follows her and soon Nagai is on her trail. He now has to decide for himself whether to continue his former lifestyle in the big city or to give it all up for family life. The other alternative is to remain in business and visit his wife and child at weekends.

The thrust of the whole film is the way family life is being transformed, and often destroyed, by the stress and strain of modern life. Aoyama notes that the great Yashiro Ozu talked in his films about the collapse of the traditional Japanese extended family way back in the fifties. Now, he says, things are even worse and no one knows what will happen. The rush for riches in Japan's good times and the problems produced when easy prosperity ceased have in his opinion caused a total collapse of ethics and consequently of relationships.

All this ought to make an intriguing film, and Aoyama is a good enough film-maker to create several powerful sequences, such as the scene when Nagai goes to the lower class home of Keechie and sees that the situation there is little different from his own, transcending class barriers completely. But the problem with the film is that, instead of letting these sequences speak for themselves, it constantly underscores them with speeches that often seem pretentious and clichéd at the same time.There's even a old man in the film - one of Keechie's friends - who dispenses wisdom to one and all. He seems to be telling us what the director thinks too. But we don't need him. We need the story. It is quite capable of speaking for itself.

The film is well shot by Masaki Tamra and acted with some skill,particularly by Hiroshi Mikami as the troubled businessman.

Prod cos Suncent CinemaWorks

Jap dist Ocean Films

Int'l sales Celluloid Dreams

Prod Takenori Sento

Scr Shinji Aoyama

Ed Shinji Aoyama

Cinematography Masaki Tamra

Sound Nobuyuki Kikuchi

Prod des Takeshi Shimizu

Main cast Hiroshi Mikami ,Maho Toyota ,Shuji Kashiwabara ,Yukiko Ikari ,Isao Natsuyagi