Kohei Oguri visits bohemian Montparnasse

Critics once considered Kohei Oguri the filmmaker with the most potential. Muddy River was Kinema Junpo’s number-one film of 1981, and in 1990, he won 2nd place at the Grand Prix in Cannes for The Sting of Death. But his slow-moving plots and attraction to abstract work prevented him from becoming better known. Now, he delivers a biopic about the artist Tsuguharu Fujita (romanized as “Foujita”), who lived in Paris for nearly twenty years between the wars. Jo Odagiri does a remarkable job inhabiting the quirky and celebrated painter, but Oguri’s work offers little insight into the figure. We start inexplicably in 1920s Paris, where Foujita hangs out with the likes of Modigliani, Picasso, and Matisse, takes many lovers and marries a few, including model Lucie/Yuki (Ana Girardot). The depiction of bohemian Montparnasse is wonderfully done but we glean little about Foujita’s feeling about being a Japanese painter in Paris. The scene suddenly switches to Japan pre- and post-WWII, again with no explanation. Foujita paints (or is forced to paint) scenes idealizing the Japanese war effort—yet Japan is ostensibly at war with his beloved France as well. We get no inkling of how Foujita feels about that. This is a fascinating but disappointing work from a supremely talented director. (Japanese and French; 126 min.)