Thursday, July 18, 2024

“TOUCH”

THE STORY – A widower embarks on an emotional journey to find his first love, who disappeared 50 years ago.

THE CAST – Egill Ólafsson, Kōki & Palmi Kormakur

THE TEAM Baltasar Kormákur (Director/Writer) & Ólafur Jóhann Ólafsson (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 121 Minutes


In the earliest days of 2020, Kristófer (Egill Ólafsson) is forced to close his restaurant. The news of a pandemic may have influenced his decision, but the widower’s recent medical diagnosis was the real deciding factor. “In situations like yours, people often seize the opportunity to take care of unfinished business,” says his doctor. In closing the restaurant, he’s reminded of his first job fifty years earlier, washing dishes at an authentic Japanese restaurant in London, instead of continuing his studies at the London School of Economics. It was here that he met his first love, Miko (Kōki), the daughter of restaurant owner and head chef Takahashi (Masahiro Motoki). One day, without notice or explanation, Miko’s father closed the restaurant, and the two of them disappeared. Now, with his life on the line and travel bans and mask mandates going into effect, can Kristófer find his long-lost love at long last?

At first glance, “Touch” feels like an odd fit for Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur. The man behind such gut-wrenching survival stories as “Beast,” “Adrift,” and “Everest” turns his attention to the survival of a human heart and adjusts his directorial hand appropriately. “Touch,” based on a novel by Olaf Olafsson (who co-wrote the screenplay with Kormákur), is an intimate, quiet story despite its globe-trotting, time-hopping plot, and Kormákur keeps that spirit intact for the story’s transfer to the big screen.

The film has a restraint in its style that, rather than pushing the audience away, brings them closer, like a friend dropping their voice to tell you a secret. Instead of sweeping you up in the rush of romance, Kormákur slowly pulls back the curtain to reveal how love is built – both the love Kristófer has for Miko and the love he has for Japanese cooking. While it’s a relatively minor story thread, Kormákur creates an intoxicating atmosphere in the restaurant that effectively communicates why and how young Kristófer (Palmi Kormákur) grows into the restaurateur we first meet. The space glows with the golden warmth of nostalgia, cluttered with cooking implements and Japanese cultural signifiers in a way that makes it feel like a beloved neighborhood eatery. The connection the characters feel to the space is palpable, and when Takahashi-san suddenly leaves with Miko, it feels empty, devoid of life, even though nothing has changed. Kormákur understands the emotional hold certain people can have over you and makes sure you feel Miko’s absence in Kristófer’s life from the second she leaves.

Kormákur receives help on this front from his actors, the youngest of whom make memorable impressions in the leading roles. In her English-language debut, Kōki fills the screen with the presence of a born star. If Kormákur (yes, the director’s own son) can’t quite match her on that front, at least the two share the kind of warm rapport that makes you long for many more movies with them starring opposite each other. Kormákur has a more laidback screen presence, one that lends itself well to the film’s restrained style. Both are able to infuse even the quietest moment with deep feeling; the way she caresses his face the first time they really touch is heartstopping.

The two actors look at each other with a yearning matched by Högni Egilsson’s moving, sparingly-used score. Director Kormákur lets the performers do the heavy lifting of the story, only heightening a moment with music when absolutely necessary. While this restraint makes the love that grows between Kristófer and Miko even more believable and impactful, the couple’s sexual chemistry never comes across as strongly. Thanks to the natural chemistry between the actors, the romance works, but without the sexual heat, it lacks the kind of urgency that can make an infatuation last for fifty years.

Thankfully, the story’s flashback structure keeps us invested in Kristófer’s quest, even if it’s never quite clear why Miko has exerted such a hold over him all these years. Both Kristófer and Miko are somewhat underwritten, without clearly defined goals. Young Kristófer is mostly defined by his lack of purpose. Still, Miko remains a bit of a mystery throughout, also partly by design: Takahashi came to London with her from Hiroshima, where the bomb dropped not long before she was born. “Touch” is on its shakiest ground when it tries to become a referendum on how the Japanese have treated Hiroshima and its survivors. Still, it adds a unique element to the Takahashis’ immigrant story, providing more texture to the film. The early COVID setting is a far less pleasing texture, one likely to cause miniature panic attacks amongst more germophobic audience members as the older Kristófer flies around the world and drinks in Japanese karaoke bars while not always wearing a mask.

With that said, however, “Touch” still manages to live up to its name. The sweet story takes its time, allowing the audience to grow ever more deeply connected to its characters. The film culminates in a bittersweet reunion that fades to credits all too quickly, but even that feels like a credit to the strong bond the film has built with its audience. Leaving the audience wanting more is always a good thing, but ending on an ellipsis feels wholly unsatisfying as the end of a love story. It’s a pity that “Touch” ends on a flat note, but that one note is easily forgotten when a whole symphony’s worth has already moved you to tears.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - A beautifully judged, tender romance with lovely, understated performances.

THE BAD - The main characters are somewhat ill-defined, and while the non-ending may have worked on the page, it doesn’t work on film.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 7/10

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Dan Bayer
Dan Bayer
Performer since birth, tap dancer since the age of 10. Life-long book, film and theatre lover.

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Latest Reviews

<b>THE GOOD - </b>A beautifully judged, tender romance with lovely, understated performances.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>The main characters are somewhat ill-defined, and while the non-ending may have worked on the page, it doesn’t work on film.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>7/10<br><br>"TOUCH"