Patrick Dickinson’s “Cottontail” begins with its protagonist, Kenzaburo (Lily Franky), walking through the streets of Japan. Despite being old and nimble, he roams with a certain sense of urgency and youthlike enthusiasm. He gets hold of a pack of fish and brings it to his usual restaurant to get it cooked. Moments later, we realize that the fish is not just a matter of indulgence for this old man. He wants this specific kind of octopus in that specific restaurant because of his memories attached to them. There, he met his wife, Akiko (Yuri Tsunematsu), in their youth.

“Cottontail” shows the restaurant emotionally transporting Kenzaburo to his past and rekindling his sweet memories of his wife after her death. It gives us a glimpse into his sentimental side as a writer whom Akiko continued to support throughout her life. Even when Kenzaburo was low on hope, she believed in the creative value of his work and motivated him. The film keeps taking trips down Kenzaburo’s memory lane, where he is made to recall both pleasing and painful parts of his past. The pain came toward the end of Akiko’s life when she was severely ill. 

Akiko’s illness made it impossible for her to move on her own. At this time, Kenzaburo tried to help her the best he could. Despite her intense pain, there was very little he could do to ease it, which saddened him even further. After her death, he learns about her last wish. She wanted him to scatter her ashes at Lake Windermere in London with their son, Toshi (Ryo Nishikido), and his new family. The issue is that Kenzaburo & Toshi have had a fraught relationship. Their conflicted past has kept them away from having a healthy relationship as a father and a son.   

Nevertheless, the pair travels to England with Toshi’s wife, Satsuki (Rin Takanashi), and their young daughter. Kenzaburo remains to be a man of few words, even with his son. The lack of communication affects their emotional bond and causes issues in their plan in England. While Kenzaburo is restless, Toshi wants him to be considerate of others. It leads them to have a separate set of experiences in this foreign land to eventually understand what they are losing out on. 

A still from Cottontail (2023).
A still from “Cottontail” (2023).

As a drama about grief and loss, “Cottontail” doesn’t break any new ground. It conveys the emotional struggles we know and have previously seen in other works. There are aspects of cultural specificity, but the script doesn’t delve much into them. Besides, it introduces the aspect of faith but never develops it in connection to the nature of their relationship. It tries to establish the universality of processing grief but doesn’t have enough substance to back it up.  

At times, “Cottontail” relies heavily on the lyricism of narration rather than the narrative. Although these moments are evocative, they fail to make a lasting impact due to the relatively weak writing. Throughout the film, we see a father and a son trying to mend their bond. However, we don’t learn enough about why their relationship is broken to connect with that aspect on a deeper level. Instead, we just witness long stretches of silence or oddly direct communication. It ends up feeling like an attempt to mask some of the film’s issues.    

Not to say the film is not compelling in any way. It features some exceptionally directed scenes that tug at your heartstrings with their sheer intensity or absolute dread. When it follows the period shortly before Akiko’s death, Tae Kimura steals the show just through her empty glances and her physical performance. Lily Franky is just as devastating in conveying the weariness in Kenzaburo’s life after Akiko’s death and the frustration brought on by a sense of helplessness during her illness. Aoife and Ciaran Hinds appear for only a brief period where Aoife outshines her father through her sensitive performance.  

“Cottontail” is a low-stakes drama, which isn’t a bad thing in this Yasujiro Ozu-inspired narrative. However, it doesn’t feature any intense performative conversations. Moreover, due to a sense of redundancy, its emotional impact is inconsistent. 

Read More: 50 Best Japanese Movies of the 21st Century

Cottontail (2023) Movie Links: IMDb, Wikipedia, Rotten Tomatoes, Mubi
The Cast of Cottontail (2023) Movie: Lily Franky, Ryo Nishikido, Tae Kimura, Rin Takanashi, Aiofe Hinds, Ciaran Hinds, Yuri Tsunematsu
Cottontail (2023) Genre: Drama | Runtime: 1h 31 Mins

Where to watch Cottontail

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