On the basis of his new feature Asako I & II (2018), Japanese writer-director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi appears to be one of those filmmakers who uses melodrama to make audiences realize how arbitrary so many social conventions that govern our lives are. His innovation here is to deliver melodramatic material with naturalistic, even understated performances and mise-en-scène, and this strategy has the effect of rendering both naturalism and melodrama uncanny. Presenting nonnatural contrivances within otherwise realistic settings, Hamaguchi suggests that the forces governing our lives are not simply arbitrary but practically paranormal. He subtly heightens the impact of this theme by frequently shifting the film’s perspective between its two main characters. Just when we think we understand one protagonist’s emotional drive, Hamaguchi will direct us to consider the other; in doing so, he preserves the power of melodramatic convention while developing a sense of mystery around each of his subjects. CONTINUE READING