Cottontail: A Japanese-British Co-Production, Starring Lily Franky

Cottontail: A Japanese-British Co-Production, Starring Lily Franky

©Courtesy of Longride/Level 33 Entertainment 

England’s Lake District has a rich literary history, often involving bunny rabbits. Richard Adams’ Watership Down was set in the area, but for Kenzaburo Oshima’s wife Akiko, the Beatrix Potter connection was much more important. Her love of Peter Cottontail attracted her to Lake Windermere in her youthful student days. For her final request, she leaves instructions for Oshima to spread her ashes somewhere around the Lake. Unfortunately, the directions to her preferred location are vague and Oshima does not work well with others, even including his grown son Toshi. This trip should facilitate their family’s healing, but it is not clear whether Oshima is willing or able to face his feelings in director-screenwriter Patrick Dickinson’s British-Japanese co-production, Cottontail, which opens Friday in theaters.

Oshima is definitely a stiff upper-lip kind of fellow, perhaps to a fault. As viewers learn from flashbacks, Akiko was and remains the love of his life. However, she clearly served as a mediator between Oshima and his son. Now that she is gone, they have difficulty communicating.

Cottontail 2

©Courtesy of Longride/Level 33 Entertainment 

Akiko’s demise from Alzheimer’s was slow and painful, but at least it allowed her some time to prepare. Consequently, Oshima is surprised when the Buddhist monk officiating her ceremony hands him a letter with a photo of her posing by a peaceful-looking, tree-lined lake. Finding that specific spot will be difficult. Akiko wanted him to share the experience with Toshi, his wife Satsuki, and their little girl, Emi, hoping it would bring them together as a family. Instead, Oshima is perversely determined to handle it on his own after they arrive in England, where he quickly finds himself lost in a foreign land, miles away from the Lake District.

Cottontail might be a scrappy, independent film, but the small ensemble is quite accomplished. Lily Franky, whom cineastes will recognize from several Hirokazu Kore-eda films, including Our Little Sister, After the Storm, and the breakout-hit Shoplifters, is perfectly cast as Oshima, the father incapable of expressing his emotions. Likewise, Ciaran Hinds (Oscar-nominated for Belfast) brings a lot of humanity to the film playing John, a local widower who helps Oshima find his way. Fittingly, Hinds’s daughter Aoife plays John’s grown offspring, Mary. Serious art house patrons might also recognize Rin Takanashi from Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami’s Japanese-language film, Like Someone in Love, portraying Oshima’s shy daughter-in-law.

The cast has a terrific collective pedigree, but more importantly, they fit together quite well. Franky’s performance as Oshima is deceptively quiet and brutally honest. Frankly, it is devastating to watch him trying to protect Akiko from the indignities of her ailment during flashbacks. He is not showy, but he connects on a gut level.

Likewise, the way Franky and Ryo Nishikido develop the Oshima father-and-son relationship rings very true—sometimes even painfully so. Yet, watching them come to emotional terms with each other is the stuff of potent drama. Young Hanil Hashimoto is quite charismatic as little Emi and Takanashi portrays Satsuki with keen sensitivity. However, Tae Kimura truly wrecks viewers, over and over, portraying Akiko as she bravely faces her diagnosis, and as she inevitably starts to lose her fight.

Dickinson’s screenplay expands on the themes and motifs of his earlier short film Usagi-San, exploring the pain and humiliation Alzheimer’s inflicts on patients, as well as their families. The Japanese-English co-production alliance is somewhat unusual, but the rainy climate well suits Oshima’s reserved temperament. Cottontail already survived its March 1st theatrical opening in Tokyo, which should (rightly) inspire confidence. The track record of producer Gabrielle Tana (known for prestige-films like Ralph Fiennes’s elegant The White Crow and Minamata, starring Johnny Depp) ought to further reassure audiences of the film’s respect for Japanese culture.

Admittedly, Dickinson’s narrative is somewhat predictable, but many viewers will directly relate to the Oshima family’s trying circumstances. The pastoral beauty of the Lake District landscape further amplifies the elegiac vibe. Despite its apparent simplicity, Cottontail should resonate with mature audiences, who can appreciate its acutely human drama. It is really quite a lovely film, in a number of ways. Recommended for grown-ups, Cottontail opens this Friday (6/7) in select U.S. theaters.

cottontail 1©Courtesy of Longride/Level 33 Entertainment 

Grade: A-

If you like the article, share your thoughts below! 

Check out more of Joe’s articles. 

Here’s the trailer of the film. 


Comment (0)


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here