Ring Wandering | SLIFF 2023

Quiet, pensive Sosuke (Show Kasamatsu) spends his days digging foundations for forthcoming high-rises, but what he really aspires to be is a manga artist. The story he’s working on takes place at the turn of the 20th Century during the Russo-Japanese War, and stars a grizzled father mourning the loss of his only daughter. Mixed into this story is some magical realism involving a wolf. The problem? Sosuke can’t figure out how to draw the wolf in his story properly. One day while out hiking in a golden field, he meets a young boy with a camera who insists he’s seen a wolf and even has a photo of one…but how can that be when wolves went extinct in Japan around the time Sosuke’s manga takes place? Soon after, Sosuke is digging at work and finds a canine skull that’s almost certainly from a wolf. He steals the skull, and later that night sneaks back to try to unearth more of the skeleton. That’s when he meets Midori (Junko Abe), who is looking for her missing dog. She sprains her ankle, so Sosuke offers to carry her home. As he spends time with her family, he starts to sense that something is off, and that there is something oddly…old-fashioned?…about Midori and her family.

The above may sound like a decent amount of plot, and the mystery at the center of Ring Wandering is captivating enough even if it maybe telegraphs where it’s going a little too obviously, but writer/director Masakazu Kaneko is far less concerned with these plot machinations than he is with mood and visual poetry. Kaneko composes his shots with exquisite care and loves to let his camera linger over a scene, often letting multiple minutes tick by with no dialogue. At the center of many of these silent scenes is Sosuke, played by Kasamatsu as a quiet, awkward guy with a thousand-yard stare as he (often wordlessly, or at least tersely) reasons out what’s happening around him.

Fortunately, it’s not all dry, dead silence. Abe’s shy smile brings much sunniness when Midori arrives on the scene, and her ecstatic-a-boy-is-showing-kindness-to-her-daughter mother (Reiko Kataoka) and her hiding-his-ecstaticness-behind-a-wall-of-faux-gruffness father (Ken Yasuda) have a fun and funny dynamic. We also get scenes where Sosuke’s manga is brought to life as if it were a samurai film, featuring Hatsunori Hasegawa (famous for playing Ultraman in the 1980 TV series) as the aforementioned grizzled father. In an early scene, Hasegawa plays up the over-the-top cheesiness of the amateurish manga dialogue even as he plays it completely straight. But when we revisit the world of Sasuke’s comic closer to the film’s conclusion, his performance packs a surprisingly emotional punch. And the very last shot of the film may just be the finest, most stunning visual in a film packed with them.

Ring Wandering is a movie that’s not in a rush to get anywhere, and it’s easy to imagine many viewers being offput by its lackadaisical pacing and lengthy silences, but with its interesting mystery and lush cinematography, it offers plenty of riches for those who can adjust to its wavelength. | Jason Green

Ring Wandering will screen in Japanese with English subtitles at the Hi-Pointe Theatre Backlot (1002 Hi-Pointe Place) on Friday, November 17 at 5:00 pm as part of the St. Louis International Film Festival 2023. Single film tickets are $15 for general admission, $12 for Cinema St. Louis members and students with valid current photo IDs. Further information is available here.

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