Jul 17, 2014

Review: Saidoweizu [Sideways] (2009)

It still hasn't sunk in that there is a Japanese remake of Alexander Payne's Sideways and I just finished watching it about ten minutes ago as I write this. It's not that I'm opposed to there being a remake, it's just so weird all the same. Payne himself gave his blessing for this movie to be made so we're good.

Can the whole romance of Napa valley and California wine drinking be translated into Japanese? I think so, it's definitely possible. I'm no wine drinker myself but the Japanese can enjoy Pinot Noir just as well as anyone else, right? Sorry, I'm still trying to convince myself that this isn't all too weird.


Genre: drama
Directed by: Cellin Gluck
Produced by: Chihiro Kameyama, Toru Miyazawa, Kazutoshi Wadakura, etc
Written by:  Alexander Payne, Rex Pickett
Music by: Jake Shimabukuro
Running time: 124 minutes
Production company: Cine Bazar, Fuji Television Network, Protean Image Group
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox, Fuji Television Network
Country: Japan, United States
Language: Japanese, English
Budget: N/A
Box office: N/A

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Fumiyo Kohinata, Katsuhisa Namase, Rinko Kikuchi, Kyôka Suzuki, Morgan Snyder, Jean-Christophe Lebert




Michio Saito (Fumiyo Kohinata) is a scriptwriting teacher who lives in Tokyo. He arrives in California to meet his friend Daisuke Uehara (Katsuhisa Namase) who's getting married pretty soon. The two plan to go on a trip together but have different ideas in mind. Michio wants to go to Napa Valley to relax and taste wine while Daisuke wants to go to Las Vegas and have one last fling. 


Compared to Sideways, Saidoweizu has quite a few changes to the story which are fine with me. Michio as I said is a scriptwriter who hasn't gotten anything produced into a movie before and is waiting on a phone call from a producer about his most recent script. Daisuke (the Thomas Haden Church character) used to be in a comedy/action TV show and now he manages a restaurant. The love interest of Michio, Mayuko Tanka (Kyôka Suzuki) is a wine professional who wants to make her place in the United States. It's about face and proving that she has what it takes. 

Wine tasting on the other hand isn't very deeply explored. There's lots of wine tasting/drinking throughout the movie but it's not as much of a fixture. There's a little debate about Pinot and the difficulty of growing the grapes but it's nowhere near as moving as when Paul Giamatti delivered those lines. The mixing of English and Japanese language is nice but the English dialogue on many occasions is extremely weak. Usually this happens when there's an extra who's speaking in English and it just sounds completely off. The other thing that's sort of funny is that the music choices come off as very "American" which I'm guessing is the goal here. Presumably this movie is for Japanese audiences so the United States is being presented to them how they expect it to be.

Kohinata and Namase play off each other pretty well and create a couple of comical moments between the two. I don't really see the chemistry between Kohinata and Suzuki though but they're watchable enough together. The story between them loses it's wheels in the last third of the film unfortunately. The better coupling is found in Namase's character and Rinko Kikuchi's which is the ongoing fling that was found with Thomas Haden Church's and Sandra Oh's characters. Katsuhisa Namase is leaned on very heavily to create the comedy in the movie but it falls flat on more than one occasion.

Is Saidoweizu an awful movie? No it isn't but it isn't an especially great one either. It's hard not to compare it to Sideways but I like most of the changes that were implemented all the same. Not everything works though and the story between Michio Saito and Mayuko Tanka could have been a lot better. The mixing of American and Japanese sensibilities partially succeeds and on the whole, Saidoweizu is quite well filmed. If you decide to watch Saidoweizu, at the very least you'll have something interesting to say the next time you're at a party.



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