Two young men arrive at a deserted countryside train station. They are Tsuboi and Kinoshita, amateur filmmakers on their way to a meeting with a genuine film star who might be interested in appearing in their next production. Less than a minute after their arrival, a phone rings with the message that the actor will be late for the appointment. In fact he might not be able to make it that day at all.
Not intending to make the long trip home again, the two men wander around the small town, wait, spend the night and encounter a variety of eccentric oddballs, including a girl streaking on the beach. Joining them on their quest to kill time, she quickly finds her way into the two young men's hearts, but she vanishes just as suddenly as she appeared. As their money dwindles, the quality of the men's lodging decreases exponentially, and when the actor doesn't show up at all, the question of how to return home rears its head. Never mind the question of what to do once they get there.
Nobuhiro Yamashita gained immediate international recognition with his 1999 debut film Hazy Life, a free-flowing portrait of a pair of suburban slackers who spend most of their time around and under their living room kotatsu. Since then, the young director has continued making films in the same vein, polishing and honing his very characteristic style of minimalist camera movements and dry-witted humour. Although their films are radical opposites in almost every way, Yamashita's method is reminiscent of the way Sabu approaches his oeuvre: the careful refining of a trademark style in film after film. Both filmmakers even share the habitual casting of a leading man: Shinichi Tsutsumi for Sabu, the seemingly ineffectual Hiroshi Yamamoto for Yamashita. Although at first glance he only seems to be repeating himself, beneath the tried-and-true surface, Yamashita, like Sabu, injects numerous nuances that end up forming the heart and soul of the film and give it its individuality.
Like his two previous films, Ramblers takes place in a post-Bubble Era Japan that seems have put everything overboard it once held sacred. This time, absolutely no one appears to have a regular job, with both main and supporting characters eking out a living on the margins. Nearly everyone the two filmmaker buddies (young men with a job that is about as far removed from steady office work as can be) encounter on their trek through the rural backwaters is of undetermined profession. They simply seem to pass their time huddled together inside cramped houses built in vast landscapes. It's telling that the film's entire plot evolves from someone arriving late for an appointment. This was once the country where being on time was considered the greatest of virtue.
Yamashita's films are reflections of this society in transformation rather than comments or criticism, and perhaps even unconscious reflections at that, but the result is a body of work that chronicles the here and now in a way that is refreshingly disarming without being any less telling. That it's often hilariously funny at the same time certainly doesn't hurt either. Ramblers delivers both characteristics, and more, in ample doses.