Short critiques: Homestay (2022) review

Introduction

Four years after receiving a Thai adaptation, Natsuki Seta (A Liar and a Broken Girl (2011), Georama Boy Panorama Girl (2020)) brings Eto Mori’s Colorful to life for Amazon Original. Now Japanese as well as international audiences can finally visually explore Mori’s highly popular novel. Yet, can this film deliver the same emotional impact as the book does?  

Review

Natsuki Seta’s adaptation might deliver the same important message as the book does – a human subject should accept himself his ego as being fragmentary and his being as an irresolvable hole that structures him – but it is unable to give this important message its necessary emotional resonance.

Homestay (2022) by Natsuki Seta
Kento Nagao as Makoto Kobayashi

This failure is caused by two interlinked elements. The first cause is the composition. The composition of Homestay is, simply said, too by-the-books. Seta does not dare to give space and time to the cast to truly breathe life into the characters and the story. The narrative might have a highly interesting premise – a deceased soul can gain a second chance at life if he can figure out what happened to the vessel he ‘borrows’, but the inability to infuse the narrative with the emotions of the cast undercuts any kind of emotional impact the movie wants to deliver.

The second reason for the narrative’s failure is the ineptitude of cute-faced Kento Nagao, who plays Makoto Kobayashi. Nagao  is simply unable to deliver a performance that can carry this narrative about depression, suicide, and acceptance. In our view, it is because Seta realized that Nagao has not the needed emotional range nor the power to carry the narrative that she kept her composition simple. She simply made the most of her lead.

Homestay (2022) by Natsuki Seta
Anna Yamada as Akira

Yet, Nagao’s performance complicates all other performances and sabotages the chemistry he needed to have with others to make the narrative truly work. Anna Yamada, who delivers an outstanding performance as Akira, does not receive the emotional response from Nagao that would made her character’s subjective conflict truly impactful. And Yagi Rikako’s rich and layered performance as Miyuki is unable to touch the spectator as it should because Nagao is unable to create a believable chemistry between their characters.   

But is Natsuki Seta’s Homestay a bad adaptation? Does her film overstays its welcome? Luckily, it does not. Homestay is, despite its flaws, a pleasant narrative that offers an important message. Yet, with a different lead-actor and more compositional dare, Seta’s film could have been truly emotionally profound and powerful enough to make a radical difference in some spectators’ life.

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