A struggling Tokyo actor begins to re-appreciate small-town wholesomeness after returning home for the first time in many years on learning of his semi-estranged father’s death in Renpei Tsukamoto’s heartwarming drama My Father’s Tracks (僕と彼女とラリーと, Boku to Kanojo to Rally to). As much a celebration of the idyllic countryside villages around the city of Toyota in Aichi, obviously closely associated with the automobile industry, Tsukamoto’s gentle coming-of-age tale sees its hero find his purpose in returning to his roots while gaining a new perspective on his parents’ relationship and the father he’d always resented who became a local hero but was never around when his family needed him.
At 29 Taiga (Win Morisaki) is still trying to make his mark as an actor in Tokyo, his dejected manager complaining his trouble is that though he’s quick and clever he’s essentially soulless which is why he’s failing to captivate the audition panel. He repeatedly ignores calls from his semi-estranged father Toshio (Masahiko Nishimura) and then answers one on the urging of a friend only to utter some very unkind words before unceremoniously hanging up. The next time he answers his phone, however, the call is from an old friend and neighbour, Miho (Mai Fukagawa), letting him know that his father has passed away suddenly of a heart attack. Though they had not been on good terms, Taiga cannot help feeling guilty that his final words to his father were so harsh especially as he’d called to invite him to visit the following November.
Though everyone in the town seems to have held Toshio in high regard, he was a frequent fixture on the local TV channel for which Miho works, both Taiga and his older brother Hiroyuki (Ryuta Sato) who has become a cynical and heartless businessman feel only contempt for him for having selfishly neglected his family while travelling all around the world as a mechanic with a champion rally team not even making it home in time to see their mother before she passed away of a longterm illness. Taiga can’t forgive him for leaving his mother lonely, but later comes to reflect that perhaps he wasn’t best placed to fully understand the relationship between his parents and may have misinterpreted something which as he later puts it only a husband and wife can know. Meanwhile, it seems his father had also been a supportive force in the community having given jobs to those who might not ordinarily find them in a mechanic with a criminal record, an old man past retirement age, and a young woman so shy she is largely unable to speak. Taiga can see how important his father was to these people and worries what will happen to them now whereas his coldhearted brother is deaf to their pleas planning to close the business and have it and the family home bulldozed as soon as possible to settle the estate without undue delay.
Hurt even more deeply that Taiga, Hiroyuki has become cruel and cynical often running his brother down rolling his eyes that no one makes a living from a “hobby” while insisting this isn’t one of his “namby-pamby” plays. He claims that he needs the money to protect his family, something that he feels his father failed to do in spending all his time on a “hobby” of his own even shutting down his own small son’s curiosity and desire to join in with the other kids’ fun. Even so after repeatedly telling him to “man up” and get a real job, Hiroyuki is less than impressed by Taiga’s desire to take over the family business which he admittedly knows nothing about having acquired a driving license solely for a role, only relenting when threatened by a flamboyant human rights lawyer with the name of a legendary samurai (Riki Takeuchi).
Nevertheless, marshalling the skills he picked up in Tokyo and working alongside the locals Taiga begins to rediscover the sense of purpose he’d been missing while gaining a new understanding of his father and greater sense of future possibility. Despite complaining that there is “nothing here” in comparison to Tokyo only for Miho to remind him of all the things Tokyo doesn’t have or that are freely given in Toyota but need to be paid for in the city, he quickly settles back in to small town rhythms and begins to accept his father’s legacy finally finding his sense of direction and taking his place in the driving seat of his own life. A heartwarming tale of familial reconnection and the power of community, not to mention a celebration of rural small-town Toyota, My Father’s Tracks insists life is a rally, all about the going there and coming back, walking on blazing a trail and never giving up no matter the sharp corners and unexpected turns a life may take.
My Father’s Tracks streams in the US until March 27 as part of the 14th season of Asian Pop-up Cinema
Original trailer (English subtitles)