His Bad Blood PosterThe sins of the father are visited on the son. Rural superstitions run deep, but is it really fair to condemn a child for having “bad blood” or will the prejudice itself become a self-fulfilling prophecy? The young man at the centre of Koichiro Oyama’s debut feature His Bad Blood (いつくしみふかき, Itsukushimi Fukaki) struggles to assert himself in a small community where his father’s (minor) crimes are still painfully present, but then perhaps like any other young man he himself needs to lay his father’s ghost to rest in order to find his own path.

Decades ago, no good drifter Hiroshi (Ikkei Watanabe) drifted into a small-town in search of a place to die after his latest business venture collapsed, but there found the kindly Kayoko who gave him a home and a chance to start again. Unfortunately, however, Hiroshi reverted to type and after being sent home to get the baby clothes while his wife was in labour, decided to run off with the family’s savings instead only to be caught in the act by Kayoko’s brother Yoshitaka whom he wounded in a fight that eventually saw him beaten by a mob and hounded out of town.

In the present day, Shinichi (Yu Toyama), the son, is a strange, shy young man who has been unable to hold down a job and is widely disliked by the community and especially by his resentful uncle. When the area is plagued by a spate of burglaries, Yoshitaka jumps to the “obvious” conclusion and attempts to have Shinichi hounded out of town the same way he got rid of his father. Hurt that not even his mother believes he is innocent of the crimes of which he is accused, Shinichi takes refuge with the local preacher (Akio Kaneda) where, unbeknownst to him, his estranged father has also decamped to hide out after a life of petty crime finally catches up to him.

Though set firmly in the present day, Oyama’s debut has a distinctly depression-era dustbowl feel with its rural backwater suddenly stirred up by rumours of the railroad’s eventual arrival while the non-conformist Christian church hands down messages of love and compassion in trying times. Hiroshi, possibly unreformable, even puts on a show of getting religion only to go full snake oil salesman in staging a revival inside the Reverend’s church in which his personal prophet, Tanaka Xavier XVI, makes a “disabled” woman walk and successfully stimulates the record crowd to hand over their cash in hope of salvation while Shinichi and the Reverend look on in confused horror.

To engineer some kind of forward motion, the Reverend pushes the two men together but keeps their connection a secret until finally revealing it in the hope that the pair might finally be able to put some kind of lid on the past. Looking for his father, Shinichi avows he’d like to mess up his life just like his father has done to his, but discovers that Hiroshi’s life is pretty messed up already and likely always has been. His fate was pretty much sealed the day pushed the baby clothes out of the way and opened the family safe instead. Shinichi’s job isn’t to save his dad, no one can, but try and accept him so that he can, a sense, reject his “bad blood” and those who condemn him for it to claim his own identity and walk his own path.

Before he can do all of that, however, he’ll have to escape the secondary curse of the unfair prejudice he faces from his home community as a supposed carrier of “bad blood”, destined for criminality and inherently untrustworthy. Despite all he suffers, Shinichi valiantly refuses to become what everyone says he is while deeply resenting his absent father for saddling him with this unhappy destiny. It is, however, Hiroshi who accidentally gives him forward motion through the unlikely shared dream of making an honest killing in the shortly to boom real estate business when the railroad comes to town. An equally unlikely love affair with a similarly strange young woman (Keiko Koike) provides additional possibilities, but still leaves Shinichi feeling trapped by his past despite her urgings to “just be yourself and live in the future with me”. A melancholy tale of freeing oneself from the judgement of others and learning to step out of a father’s shadow, His Bad Blood is a promising debut from Oyama who addresses a difficult subject with compassionate humanism as his melancholy hero finds the courage to walk away from a toxic past towards a more promising future.


His Bad Blood was screened as part of the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival.

International trailer (English subtitles)