As a stranger in a strange land, try being an African American in Japan—it's like being a gaijin twice. Yet that's the experience, as an English teacher in a rural province, that informs writer/director Aaron Woolfolk's clumsy, sentimental debut drama. Daniel (Ben Guillory), a San Francisco widower and photographer in his late 50s, travels to Japan to gather the artwork of his son, a teacher who there died two years prior in a traffic accident. Gruff and too culturally insensitive to remove his shoes indoors, he manages to offend all his smiling, bowing hosts. (Foremost among them is Misa Shimizu, leading lady of The Eel and other titles by Shôhei Imamura.) Daniel is doubly bereaved, since his father died in a Japanese prison camp during World War II, but there's never any doubt he'll eventually soften in his views. And what's this—the son had a secret wife who fled to a remote village? What small secret could she also be hiding? All the inevitable forgiveness and tolerance comes from Daniel's side of the story; cute schoolkids swarm him curiously rather than calling him a kurombo. When he finally sets down his grief and picks up his camera to appreciate the scenic landscape and festivals of Kochi (on the southern island of Shikoku), Harimaya Bridge becomes an effective travelogue. As drama, however, it's badly in need of a map.
Back in San Fran, Danny Glover plays the brother and wise counsel to Guillory.
Runs at Grand Illusion, Fri., Sept. 17–Thurs., Sept. 23. Not rated. 120 minutes.