Original review featured on the Doha Film Institute website.
It’s an almost universal desire – one which has been covered in a few different ways over the years in cinema. There is the light-hearted approach of travelling to an ‘exotic’ land, or lands like in the huge commercial success Eat, Pray, Love (2010). Then, there are tales which show a plan to retreat gone wrong such as the dark, independent film ‘Martha, Macy, May, Marlene’ (2011) or more well-known ‘The Beach’ (2000).
Director Naoko Ogigami’s black comedy ‘Glasses’ (‘Megane’ in Japanese, pronounced may-ga-neh) falls under a new category. The 2008 Sundance Film Festival entry is neither superficial nor dramatic and follows Taeko, a middle-aged academic professor, searching for a few peaceful days on an unnamed island. There’s something charming about her destination but its inhabitants – who all wear glasses – have weird routines she doesn’t appreciate.
Arriving at the inn, Taeko’s stiff modern image reflects her personality: she’s an antisocial career woman who hopes that abandoning her phone connection will bring her the rest she’s seeking. She expects to be served and pampered but instead is faced with characters who continue to invade her personal space.
The inn’s proprietor Yuji (Ken Mitsuishi) fails to pick up her suitcase as she enters and later annoyingly joins her for meals. In the morning an older woman, Sakura, stares at her while she sleeps to wake her up. Perplexed and surprised, she engages with them out of courtesy. Twilighting, an activity that seems to involve staring at the sky for hours and contemplating, is their favourite bizarre pastime.
This is not her idea of a retreat, so she leaves. But sleep-watching Sakura goes looking for her and Taeko returns, realising the island is not so bad after all, and finally drops her hostile attitude. It’s somewhere here that a delightful journey of self-discovery begins.
‘Glasses’ is the director’s criticism of modern societies. The expressive cinematography; long beautiful shots of life’s simple pleasures like watching the ocean, playing the mandolin, preparing and eating and good food, hypnotises the audience into a contemplative state along with the film’s characters.
Visually, people and nature merge perfectly in this purposefully slow-paced film, Ogigami’s seventh as director. Complementing the mesmerising landscapes is a script bursting with absurd wit and dark humour.
Unlike other films about escapism ‘Glasses’ didn’t make the headlines for boosting tourism in Japan; this is not an attention-seeking picture. Spend 106 minutes with these characters. You might not jump on your computer to book a holiday but you may forget about life’s troubles for a while.