COMMENT: Japanese adaptation of 'Miracles of the Namiya General Store' trumps Chinese version

Marcus Goh
“Namiya” (Golden Village Pictures)

In the span of just four months, we’ve seen two different film adaptations of the same novel — “Miracles of the Namiya General Store”. The Japanese adaptation, “The Miracles of the Namiya General Store”, came out last October, while the Chinese adaptation, titled simply “Namiya”, is out this month. The story is about three delinquents who stumble into an abandoned general store one night, and end up discovering that they can receive and reply to letters for help from the past.

Both films take radically different approaches to pacing. “Namiya” tries to be as fast-paced as possible by shoving you through each plot point so that the scenes feel shorter and quicker, while “The Miracles of the Namiya General Store” takes its time to set up characters and backstory, for a greater payoff at the end. Admittedly, the latter does feel a little draggier overall, thanks to the way it focuses on certain beats. Yet the difference between the two running times is merely 13 minutes — the Chinese adaptation is 116 minutes long, while the Japanese one clocks in at 129 minutes.

Unfortunately, faster pacing doesn’t always equate to a better film. To ensure that audiences don’t get left out, “Namiya” blatantly and explicitly spells out everything, which takes the mystery away from the story. “The Miracles of the Namiya General Store” isn’t as easy to follow, but it gives greater satisfaction because you come to the conclusion on your own, rather than having it handed to you on a platter.

“The Miracles of the Namiya General Store” (Golden Village Pictures)

The production values for both films also differ vastly. You can tell that “The Miracles of the Namiya General Store” took great pains to dress and find each location, which gives it this added sense of melancholy. However, most of “Namiya” felt like it was shot in a sound stage (an isolated, soundproof studio), giving it a more television look rather than being cinematic in quality. There’s this artificial sense of restriction in “Namiya”, that the camera can’t go past a certain point thanks to technical limitations, which isn’t as obvious in the Japanese adaptation.

“Namiya” (Golden Village Pictures)

Then there are the special effects. “Namiya” is flooded with awful, low-budget digital effects to drive home the point that the general store is a magical one. The problem is that the graphics look cheap and corny, like the producers were really trying to stretch their digital effects budget here. There’s also an atrocious attempt to inject action into the film by inserting a car chase sequence that’s clearly shot on a green screen. It ends up being a comical, B-grade movie chase scene that somehow found its way into a drama.

“The Miracles of the Namiya General Store” (Golden Village Pictures)

The biggest offender, though, has to be Jackie Chan’s make-up. The 63-year-old actor is aged past the point of believability, with the film deliberately focusing on the (artificial) age spots and white hair to try and convince you that you’re watching a geriatric character. You’re so distracted by the unnatural aging that you can’t focus on Chan’s performance. This may be his first non-martial arts role, but he didn’t have to rely on the crutch of practical effects to deliver a good performance. Most people would have been satisfied just to see Chan in the role of a regular 63-year-old manning a general store.

“Namiya” (Golden Village Pictures)

The Japanese adaptation sidesteps the problem of lousy special effects by simply not having any. Instead, lighting and directorial techniques are used reflect the fantasy elements of the film, allowing you to focus on plot and performances.

“Namiya” is clearly a cash grab, while “The Miracles of the Namiya General Store” feels like it was properly developed and adapted into a film. In terms of quality, there’s no mistaking which is the better film. Perhaps if “Namiya” had been released first, its flaws would not been as glaring. As it stands, “The Miracles of the Namiya General Store” is the winner here.

“The Miracles of the Namiya General Store” (Golden Village Pictures)

“The Miracles of the Namiya General Store” was directed by Ryuichi Hiroki, and stars Ryosuke Yamada (Atsuya), Toshiyuki Nishida (Yuuji Namiya), Nijiro Murakami (Shota Kobayashi), and Kanichiro (Kohei). It opened in Singapore cinemas on 5 October, 2017.

“Namiya” was directed by Jie Han, and stars Jackie Chan (Namiya), Dilraba Dilmurat (Tong Tong), Dong Zijian (Ah Jie), and Karry Wang (Xiao Bo). It is rated PG-13.

“Namiya” opened in cinemas:
– 4 January, 2018 (Singapore)

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Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter, having written for “Lion Mums”, “Crimewatch”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.

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