The first time Mami Miyake saw A Beautiful Star, she didn’t really understand it.
“It’s difficult,” she says. “It has a little bit peculiar content.”
A Beautiful Star is a surreal science-fiction fable by Daihachi Yoshida, about a family of four: a father, a mother, a son (Kazuo), and a daughter (Akiko). One day, the father, Kazuo, and Akiko start to get strange heavenly messages that tell each of them the same thing: They’re not from Earth. Dad starts to believe he’s from Mars. Kazuo believes he’s from Mercury. Akiko believes she’s from Venus. It makes the kind of sense a bizarre dream makes when you’re in the middle of it, which evaporates upon waking and defies description.
But that was all right with Miyake. If a film makes sense the first time you see it, she says, that just means it’s easy. This movie was complex, its atmosphere dreamy and its score luscious. There would be plenty more to find if she saw it again. Which she did, several times, before she finally attended a teach-in by Yoshida himself after her fifth viewing.
For three hours, the director and his audience talked about the movie, and the 1962 novel it was loosely based on, and finally, Miyake began to plumb its depths. A Beautiful Star’s message is in no way apparent on the surface, but if you dig further, it becomes a commentary on how human beings alienate themselves from environmental concerns, and a cautionary look at climate change and nuclear disasters. Why save a planet you believe you have nothing to do with?
Armed with her new knowledge, of course Miyake would have to see it again.
The only problem was that the movie stopped showing in Tokyo before Miyake was done with it. So she began to follow it around, catching it in Hokkaido and Kanazawa, until it was no longer showing in Japan. Then she followed it through cities all over Korea. She crossed continents to catch it in Vancouver. By the time she came to Minnesota to see it two more times -- her first solo trip to the United States -- she had cracked the upper 80s.
“My objective is to get to 100,” she says, standing in the lobby of the St. Anthony Main Theatre in Minneapolis, wearing a cardigan covered in little pink stars and carrying a silver handbag with stars etched into the surface. Her weekend at the Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul’s annual film festival would allow her to bump her tally to 90.
“It is like an adventure,” she says. She’s grateful to the film festival staff, she says. They could have chosen any Japanese film, and they picked the one she would cross oceans to see.
The funny thing is, A Beautiful Star isn’t necessarily a blockbuster, even in Japan. It didn’t get a huge audience, either, when she came to her first screening in Minneapolis. Miyake sees it as a sort of hidden gem, and she wants to expose it to the world. Especially young people, she says. After all, it’s their planet next.
And if you don’t feel like you get it the first time you see it, Miyake says, don’t worry. You can always see it again.