Boundary: Flaming Feminist Action (바운더리, Yun Ga-hyun, 2021)

Over the last few years it had seemed that feminism was beginning to take root in Korea with mass protests against the use of spy cams leading to a broader discussion of women’s rights in the still patriarchal nation with further social movements such as Escape the Corset highlighting persistent societal misogyny. Yet with the recent election of conservative president Yoon Suk-yeol who had run on an explicitly anti-feminist ticket hopes for real progress have been dashed. In her documentary filmed before Yoon’s victory, Boundary: Flaming Feminist Action (바운더리, Boundary), director Yun Ga-hyun looks back at the last four years as she and her friends reflect on the nature of their activism, what they’ve achieved and what they hope to in the future. 

As Yun and her fellow activists relate, Flaming Feminist Action came together as an extension of the labour movement formed the wake of the 2016 Gangnam Station Toilet Murder Case in which a woman was killed by a male stranger who claimed he did it because women had rejected him. Female solidarity is indeed central to the movement, the first Reclaim the Night-style protest which we witness insistent that a safe space for women is a safe space for everyone while reminding each other that they are not alone but stand together in pursuit of change. 

The group also takes part in symposia in which they attempt to educate each other offering the kind of sex education not found in schools in order to give women back the agency over their own bodies in the knowledge that to exercise it can in itself become a political act. As such, we also see the group challenging traditional gender norms by symbolically shaving their heads and holding a body hair competition in challenging traditional beauty standards. One of the women reveals that her brother was so scandalised by her decision to cut her hair that he refused, perhaps jokingly, to let her back into the house. Meanwhile they also take aim at more widely held traditional values such as in their “Free the Nipple” event in which they went bare chested protesting the restrictive and discriminatory policies of social media platforms such as Facebook which routinely block imagery featuring female nudity tagging it as pornography. Similarly the women’s public protest is frustrated by the police force who immediately move in with blankets when they remove their shirts citing public obscenity laws while the women argue that the law is absurd while men aren’t challenged for walking around shirtless. 

As Yun herself reveals in her own to camera interview, some members of the group have been arrested several times while she has also been threatened with violence and one commentator on the Blue House website petitioned to have them all rounded up and executed. At the street safety protest, she also revealed that she’d received violent and misogynistic messages online and had reported them to police but they refused to do anything because the messenger had then blocked her meaning she could not ascertain his identity while he went on to troll other other feminist activists in the same way. Then again, there is also division within the movement, Yun explaining that she’d also been criticised for giving an individual interview at a protest which was against the movement’s policy while her support for gender fluid and non-binary people as well as trans women and other members of the LGBTQ+ community joining the protests was also a source of conflict.  

Nevertheless, the women also draw strength for all that they’ve achieved even if acknowledging there is a long way to go. Yun herself attempts to run for political office working with a new party dedicated to the advancement of women’s rights having given up on the idea of influencing mainstream parties from the inside. Others come to the conclusion that the clearest path to societal change lies in education while generating a sense of female solidarity that offers support to women facing deeper social issues such as domestic and/or sexualised violence along with workplace harassment and discrimination. “The way to win is just to endure” one of the women reflects while Yun too echoes that at the very least she never gave up even in the most difficult of moments as she prepares to move into a new stage of her life in activism. 


Boundary: Flaming Feminist Action screened as part of Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022

Original trailer (no subtitles)

Camellia Sisters (Gái Già Lắm Chiêu V: Những Cuộc Đời Vương Giả, Namcito & Bảo Nhân, 2021)

The dark secrets surrounding three super rich sisters are dragged into the light by the mysterious disappearance of a prized robe in Bảo Nhân and Namcito’s operatic rom-com, Camellia Sisters (Gái Già Lắm Chiêu V: Những Cuộc Đời Vương Giả). Apparently the fifth in a series of thematically linked movies, the film finds the central trio trapped in the golden cage of their wealth while pulled in different directions by their conflicting desires but eventually brought back together after a series of unexpected revelations exposing the long buried truths of the remaining Ly family. 

Living in a huge European-style mansion up in the mountains, the oldest of the sisters, Han (Lê Khanh), rules with an iron fist maintaining the family name and finances as a well-known antiques dealer. Only the truth is that many of the “antiques” are fake and she’s roped in her more cheerful sister Hong (Hồng Vân) to assist her in a scam to push up auction prices while ensuring they never lose their most prized possession of the Phoenix Robe and most particularly to shady nouveau-riche businessman Lam Quach (Sĩ Nguyễn). Meanwhile, youngest sister Linh (Kaity Nguyễn), who is at pains to remind her boyfriend Gia Huy (Anh Dũng) that she is only a foster child, is fiercely ambitious and desperate to take over Empire Tower. When Gia Huy makes her an offer she can’t refuse to betray her sisters’ trust and help him and his dad get their hands on the robe in return for a giant promotion that would make all her dreams come true she hardly blinks but when the robe goes missing right before the auction she begins to discover that there is far more to all of this than she originally thought. 

Part of the problem is that there is apparently a curse on the women of the Ly family in that they are not permitted to marry unless a red camellia blooms in the middle of their white camellia field. Ha meanwhile is obsessed with maintaining the family name and influence partly through the allure of the curse which means she must be seen as virtuous but has secretly been carrying on with a married business associate for the previous 25 years, a romantic tragedy that has long been eating away at her soul as well as her pride in being the matriarch of this powerful family while only the mistress of a married man. Hong meanwhile is just the same, secretly living with one of their servants as man and wife but keeping up the pretence of the two spinster sisters living in their giant mansion spending all their time sourcing antiques for other people with far too much money who engage reckless spending as a kind of status war. Lam Quach mainly wants to take the robe so that Ha won’t have it while as we discover her desperation to keep it is largely sentimental if also in a similar fashion the desire to prevent it going back to her lover’s wife who apparently owned it originally. 

Linh, meanwhile, wants the robe in order to secure her own status insisting that “only power is the true purpose of this life” willing to betray her sisters to get it while insecure in her liminal status as an adopted child, not really one of the Ly family. Through her various investigations, she begins to discover the reason for her sense of disconnection with her sisters eventually reintegrated into the family in learning the truth. There is however a degree of naivety in her worldview, unduly shocked by her sisters’ duplicity in realising that most of their superrich aesthetic is superficial and founded on lies, Han selling fake antiques to people who just wanted to spend a lot of money on something ultimately pointless without really caring what it is only that they’ll be denying it to others while keeping up the mystery of the Camellia Sisters as a kind of marketing tool even if it’s made her miserable and as she later realises denied her the greatest joy of her life. 

As aspirational as their comfortable lives may seem, the superrich are also somewhat skewered as vacuous and backstabbing devoid of all human feeling in their insatiable material desires before Linh is shown the error of her ways in realising that she has been manipulated by just about everyone but familial love is more important than wealth or power. Operatic in scale and shot for a mammoth budget, Camellia Sisters is full on melodrama with its gothic overtones of the rot at the base of noble family but in any case suggests that each of the women is in their own way constrained by their frustrated desires while bound by outdated patriarchal social codes, eventually rediscovering a sense of solidarity in exposing the truth that allows them to reassume control over their collective destinies. 


Camellia Sisters screened as part of Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022

Original trailer (English subtitles)

The Wonder of a Summer Day (幻の蛍, Yuka Ibayashi, 2022)

A solitary teenage girl struggling to come to terms with her parents’ divorce gains a new perspective through a trip to grandma’s in Yuka Ibayashi’s charming indie drama, The Wonder of a Summer Day (幻の蛍, Maboroshi no Hotaru). Somewhat numbed emotionally, Kanata (Konoha Nogishi) is consumed with a sense of emptiness and has no idea what she wants to do in the future or even what her favourite food is while spending almost all of her time alone even going into school during the summer holidays to keep up her cleaning routine or work in the library. 

Part of this as we discover is that she doesn’t have a smartphone because her mother’s (Akiko Kikuchi) business running a small bar is struggling so she can’t join the group chat on phone-based social network LINE, the other girls in any case walking away before she’s fully time to explain even if she were going to. Kanata is certainly a very responsible young woman, often needing to get herself up and out because her mother rises late given the nature of her work, and helping out behind the bar when she gets home from school where she seems to be taking care of all the cleaning needs single handedly simply explaining “we’re supposed to rotate” when questioned by her eccentric science teacher as to why she has to do all of this extensive labour on her own. 

The science teacher is also surprised to learn that Kanata has no plans for the summer vacation planning to continue coming into school to do her various jobs, Kanata sadly wiping the word “summer” off the blackboard and cleaning the eraser afterwards. Then again, the teacher’s idea of fun is sitting in a bowling alley watching people bowl, prompting Kanata to begin wondering what fun might be or if there’s something she might like to do after all. “Life tends to provide us something we enjoy” according to the man at the grocery store, but she struggles to find an answer even refusing an invitation from her father to go to a local festival with her younger sister Sumire (Nonoka Ikeda) when he calls to borrow her old yukata.  

Part of the reason for her loneliness is rooted in the disintegration of the family unit. Not only is she harbouring a degree of resentment towards her father but has also been separated from her sister and feels acutely divided by the traditional social codes which mean that she and her mother have reverted to her maternal family’s name while Sumire and her father have kept theirs the same marking them as no longer family to the extent that she isn’t quite sure why Sumire regrets not having been allowed to attend their grandfather’s funeral. The situation is compounded by the fact that she suspects her father has a new girlfriend, her shock and distress palpable after spotting the three of them driving around looking like a family a pair of sisters excitedly crossing the road ahead of her while she remains frozen on the spot. 

Invited to spend a few days with grandma in the country along with Sumire, Kanata remains sullen and uncommunicative in contrast to her upbeat and cheerful sister who displays an unusual degree of emotional maturity in trying to take the moody teen to task. “You’re not the only person in this world with problems” she eventually fires back fed up with Kanata’s moods and hurt by her most recent barb basically blaming her for their parents’ divorce while insisting that she only makes trouble for those around her. Even so, a trip to find out of season fireflies finally allows the sisters to re-establish their bond with Kanata coming to accept her situation realising that she doesn’t have to cut off contact completely just because they won’t be living together and even if there are many things they may never do again there are plenty more they could do for the first time, like looking for fireflies. “If we keep walking we’ll end up somewhere” Sumire offers encouragingly as they find themselves temporarily lost during their brief summer adventure neatly proposing a metaphor for life and relationships as the sullen heroine begins to repair her fracturing family bonds letting go of her pain and resentment now a little less lonely if only in having shared her loneliness. 


The Wonder of a Summer Day screened as part of Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022

The Sales Girl (Худалдагч охин, Janchivdorj Sengedorj, 2021)

A shy young student of nuclear engineering’s horizons are broadened through her friendship with an eccentric old lady who runs a sex shop where she ends up working after being bamboozled into covering a classmate’s shifts in Janchivdorj Sengedorj’s charming coming-of-age dramedy The Sales Girl (Худалдагч охин, Khudaldagch ohin). Showing another side of contemporary Mongolia, Janchivdorj Sengedorj’s humorous tale turns on the unusual friendship that arises between the two women each in their own way lonely and looking for a kind of liberation from a sometimes hopeless existence. 

Saruul (Bayartsetseg Bayarjargal) is only studying nuclear engineering because her parents told her to and in truth would rather be an artist spending her evenings in her room crafting textured paintings rather than going out having fun. Her solitary air may be the reason she’s approached by another girl whom she hardly knows, Namuuna, who asks her to cover her shifts at work because she’s broken her leg slipping on a banana peel. Saruul is a little reluctant, unable to understand why Namuuna is being so secretive about the nature of her job anxious that she not tell anyone about where she works largely as we find out because it’s a sex shop run by an eccentric old lady whose cat she’s supposed to feed when she goes to drop off the day’s takings at her swanky new build townhouse. To begin with, Katya (Enkhtuul Oidovjamts) is gruff and unfriendly, somewhat unpleasant and intimidating yet something intrigues her about Saruul and gradually the two women begin to generate an awkward friendship. 

As if immediately picking up on her inner conflict, Katya scoffs “where will that get you?” when Saruul explains she’s studying nuclear engineering perhaps fairly suggesting that in terms of finding steady income there may not be much difference between a career as a painter and someone with a degree in such a specific subject. In any case, Saruul is largely unfazed by the nature of her work at the sex shop, taking it mainly in her stride though telling her parents only that she’s been helping out with “deliveries” of “medications” including “human organs” which fits in nicely with Katya’s life philosophy in which she runs a “pharmacy” that sells things to help unhappy people find fulfilment and the self-confidence to restart their lives. Somewhat sceptical, Saruul tries out her advice on her friend’s dog Bim which she’d always thought seemed a bit bored and lethargic, “not really like a dog at all”, feeding him a tab of viagra and then panicking when he disappears only to discover him out living his best life running with the local strays. 

Meanwhile under Katya’s influence she begins to open up too, getting a more fashionable haircut and dressing in a more individual fashion while embracing her sexuality in deciding to seduce her friend Tovdorj who is equally lost in contemporary Mongolian society where as he puts it you work all your life to get a small apartment and a Prius, planning to change his name to Jong-Su and become an actor only to be told he has “hollow, vapid eyes”. Saruul may be equally directionless but while fascinated by Katya’s sense of mystery, this elegant older woman with a Russian name who claims to have been a famous dancer but also at one point spent time in prison and now seems to be fabulously wealthy, she becomes disillusioned when presented with the dark sides of her work, almost arrested as a sex worker and then harassed by a creepy customer after unwisely agreeing to enter his home while attempting to deliver a package. As she points out, Katya is already quite divorced from “real life” and may struggle to understand the reality of Saruul’s existence living in a small apartment where her parents craft felt shoes to sell at the market after coming to the city when she was around 10 even though her father was once a teacher of Russian. 

Then again as Saruul comes to realise Katya has had a lot of sadness in her life and the wisdom she has to impart is sound if often eccentric meditating on the fact that happiness that comes late is in its own way sad because you no longer have the capacity to enjoy it to its fullest. Even so, she is doing her best to chase happiness and helping others, Saruul included, to do the same. Gradually, Saruul sheds her ubiquitous headphones which allow her to zone out into an internal disco complete with flashing coloured lights to become more herself with a little help from her fairy godmother, the ever elusive Katya. Quirky yet heartfelt, The Sales Girl sheds new light on the concerns of young people in Mongolia but finally allows the reserved heroine to free herself of her preconceived notions to live her life the way she wants a little more aware of the world around her. 


The Sales Girl screened as part of Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022

Original trailer (no subtitles)

Leave Me Alone (不想一個人, Fan Yang-chung, 2021)

Lonely souls seek impossible connection in a rapidly disintegrating world in Fan Yang-Chung’s steamy urban drama, Leave Me Alone (不想一個人, bùxiǎng yīgèrén). The title may in its way be misleading, the original Chinese meaning something more like “I don’t want to be alone” hinting at the misdirected longing that informs all of the relationships in play, but is in another way the thing each of them fear – that they are being left behind while everything around them seems to be on the brink of collapse. 

Petty street pimp Loong (Fandy Fan Shao Hsun) literally lives in a disused building that’s about to be torn down, while his side gig involves working with a local gangster to pressure residents of an old-fashioned apartment block to sell up so the land can be redeveloped. Loong has a rather unsentimental, amoral approach to his work in finding the body of an old man and pressing his finger on the documents to make it look like he changed his mind right before died, something which seems all the colder on realising that his own father lives in the building. His gangster boss Brother Chao ominously reminds him that’s something he’ll need to take care of. 

In other ways eager to please, Loong’s involvement with Brother Chao is part of his aspirational desire to live a better life which also in part explains his fascination with beautiful gallery owner Olivia (Christina Mok) who is also in her own way lonely having discovered that she’s carrying the child of her married lover whom she’d believed was ignoring her only to discover the reason he’s not been answering her calls is that he’s in hospital in a coma and unlikely to wake up. Both Loong and and Olivia are repeatedly blocked from getting what they want, she prevented from entering her lover’s hospital room on the orders of his wife and he later rejected from a fancy apartment block by the same set of security guards instructing him to take the back stairs as if reminding him of his status and the class difference between himself and Olivia even if he’s smartened himself up while continuing to exploit other women for his living.

He does perhaps undergo a minor pang of conscience when Olivia tells him not to treat her like one of his sex workers, but later seems to have given up on achieving a more mainstream success after overplaying his hand with Brother Chao and paying a heavy price for his hubris. Olivia meanwhile entertains other men in an attempt to overcome her loneliness, sending each of them away with the excuse that her friend is coming over though of course he isn’t and doesn’t respond to her messages. As she and Loong drift into an affair, Oliva becomes a kind of tourist in his world raising eyebrows at the karaoke bar where the girls entertain Brother Chao’s guys, but Loong is hopelessly out of place in her upperclass society hovering in the background at a swanky party and eventually alienating another guest he felt was belittling him by offering to set him up with one of his girls. While he longs for Olivia as a symbol of the high life he feels is denied to him, so Chin-shah (Wen Chen-ling) his casual squeeze longs for him looking perhaps for protection or uncomfortably for the familial while he largely thinks only of himself. 

In any case, they each live in a world set to disappear. In one of the earliest scenes, Olivia watches as workmen dismantle the current installation in preparation for the next, her own image shattering as a mirror is smashed by a workman’s hammer, while the disused apartments and obsolete housing complexes familiar to Loong must too eventually come down leaving him forever displaced in a rapidly gentrifying city. “You’re too poor and you can’t handle me” Olivia eventually reflects after asking Loong if he’d always be there to take care of her making it plain that they occupy two different worlds while temporarily trapped in the same liminal space by their shared loneliness and a longing for something else that they don’t think they can have. They must try to find a way to move on but are otherwise forced deeper onto the paths they’d already chosen while trapped together bound by their shared yet opposing desires. In Fan’s stratified city of frustrated longing, love may not be so much the cure for loneliness as its ultimate expression. 


Leave Me Alone screened as part of Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022

Original trailer (English subtitles)

The Light of Spring (ひかりのどけき, Fumito Fujikawa, 2022)

“The more we try to be a family the more we feel like strangers” a husband laments reflecting on the pressures of the contemporary society which seem to have stretched his marriage possibly to breaking point. Starring a cast of non-professional actors, actually a real family living in the suburbs of Tokyo, Fumito Fujikawa’s neorealist drama The Light of Spring (ひかりのどけき, Hikari Nodokeki) examines the effects of familial breakdown largely from the perspective of the couple’s young son Shui (Shui Hirabuki) as he struggles to process the changes in his life and the indefinite absence of one parent or another. 

As the film opens, the father (Masana Hirabuki) hugs his infant daughter, Chikasa (Chikasa Hirabuki), while the mother (Yuki Kimura) gets her son, Shui, ready for an outing repeatedly asking him if he is able to do things for himself such as zip up his jacket or put on his mask as if preparing him for an early independence. She puts a backpack on his shoulders and tells him dad is taking him somewhere nice, but when the pair get back she and Chikasa will be gone. Something has obviously gone wrong in the parents’ relationship and the mother is taking Chikasa with her to the grandparents as the couple embark on a trial separation. 

The majority of the rest of the film focusses on the boy and his father adjusting to life alone as little Shui attempts to process what’s happening thinking that perhaps his mother has just gone away somewhere temporarily and will return in a few days. Indeed, his father does not tell him concretely that she won’t be coming back, just that he doesn’t really know if or when meanwhile they leave the baby gate in place even though there’s no baby around each of them stepping over it to access the kitchen and the balcony. Dad tries to make it fun, spending additional time with his son, but also discovers the pressures of being a single parent having to rearrange his working life in order to accommodate picking him up from school. Even so as he later admits to him the trial separation is working out in his favour. Without apologising he explains in simple terms that he feels trapped by the responsibility of fatherhood and is coming to believe perhaps it’s better if he and his wife do not continue to live together. 

The mother meanwhile is beginning to feel the opposite, asking her own mother if she often fought with her father and getting a fairly typical answer wondering if perhaps they’re overreacting and should try and find a new way through together. Where dad shuts down Shui’s questions, he even wondering at one point if Chikasa is still alive, she is more mindful on the effect on the children returning home when Shui calls her from a public telephone and taking him back to the grandparents only for him to then miss his dad. Dad meanwhile thinks he needs more time to decide, uncomfortably admitting that he likes it better with fewer responsibilities but perhaps in the end also missing his family.  “I wonder what a family is supposed to be” mum sighs, “we’re becoming more and more like strangers” as the pressures of the contemporary society along with the pressing anxiety of the coronavirus pandemic distance them ever further from each other. She remains at the table, but the father tells her to go with increasing intensity as if making clear that he no longer wants to have this discussion and means to exile his family from his life continuing to live in the family home marked as it is by a sense of absence while they remain displaced temporarily housed with the grandparents. 

Shot in the classic 4:3 of retro home video, Fujikawa’s neorealist drama captures the everyday life of a contemporary family with its trips to the park, museums, and burger bars or just cooking together at home but also hints at the anxieties which come with it exacerbated by the existential anxiety of the coronavirus pandemic. “Nothing’s unbreakable” the father admits, “but I’m sad when they break” the boy complains. “Even if you take good care of things, some things still break” his father goes on to explain in what seems like more of a life lesson than might be expected in a discussion about a worn-out pillow. Even so perhaps they don’t break all the way, as the hopeful conclusion implies set amid the pretty cherry blossom not quite in full bloom in a quiet corner of an otherwise busy city. 


The Light of Spring screened as part of Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022

ON STAGE (登場, Zhang Yaoyuan, 2021)

Lead singer of alternative rock band Second Hand Roses, Liang Long has been a sometimes controversial figure previously known for his shaved head and androgynous appearance often appearing onstage in female clothing and heavy makeup. Ironically enough Zhang Yaoyuan’s documentary ON STAGE (登場, Dēngchǎng) captures him mostly off, now with a full head of hair as he prepares for a New Year concert in his home area of Shenyang in the North East while simultaneously shooting a movie later released as No Problem directed by Looking For Lucky’s Jiang Jiachen.  

Zhang also hails from the North East and the area does seem to be important to the film, a banner above the stage at one point bearing the message “Develop the North East” with the film crew also wondering if their film can help do the same only for Liang to correct them that “revive” might be better than “develop” seeing as the area had been prosperous in the past but is now struggling without the oil industry. Meanwhile, he’s joined in the discussion by Wang Hongwei, star of Jia Zhangke’s Xiao Wu which the pair later reference while lamenting the decline of the North East before going on to describe the modern day Hegang as a kind of film city but not in an altogether good way each scandalised that apartments are so cheap it’s more cost effective for film crews to buy rather than rent even if they make a loss when they sell at the end of the shoot. Meanwhile, the gang later go on tour paying a visit to the China–North Korea Friendship Bridge in Dandong with two crew members engaging in separate mini rants about North Korea tricking China into paying more than their fare share by pulling out early. 

In any case, Liang is certainly cineliterate, shooting a Wong Kar-Wai-esque intro video for his upcoming concert set to Quizás, Quizás, Quizás and featuring a woman walking sadly through the streets. Another crew member decides to have another pop at Japanese directors, mystified by their admiration for natural light having sworn off ever working with Shunji Iwai again because he wanted to do things his own way. Doing things his own way is however something that’s very important to Liang as he explains to a caller on a radio show “I must keep my style from inside to outside”. The caller had somewhat impolitely explained that she originally thought his eccentric appearance seemed “nutty” but later came to understand it wondering if it’s something that Liang was doing deliberately only for him to answer that he’s fine with people describing him as crazy because he knows he’s “normal”. “When I’m in an artistic state, everything goes natural. Nothing weird” he adds, implying that his appearance is merely the purest expression of his artistic intent though it’s true enough that others may not always approve of his use of makeup or androgynous dress. Nevertheless, the concerts seem to attract a coterie of diehard fans copying his style often dressing in rose-patterned shirts and dresses with wigs and makeup, Liang later asking a photographer to go out and film them because he says they enjoy being appreciated. 

Liang does indeed seem to be a savvy operator, also interacting with his fans through live streaming which he describes as more difficult than performing onstage though he does seem pretty nervous hanging around in the wings waiting for the intro to finish ahead of his big New Year concert. Meanwhile, he’s frequently seen taking photo ops with fans and family members of the crew, in general pleasant to be around if occasionally impatient never grandstanding or pushing his fame but hanging out with his crew drinking and swapping stories. Even so he’s scathing when asked for recommendations of contemporary bands complaining that there’s “no one worth respecting” because most are artistically stagnant trading on past glory rather than coming up with new ideas. Stagnancy is not perhaps something of which you could accuse him given how incredibly busy he seems to be in just this short period of his life, never really stopping between rehearsing for the New Year show, shooting the movie, and live streaming for his fans. Shot in a crisp black and white, Zhang’s observational documentary frames him a garrulous yet contemplative man perhaps most at home onstage in the most natural state of his pure artistic vision. 


ON STAGE screened as part of Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022

Original trailer (Japanese subtitles only)

Melting Sounds (ほとぼりメルトサウンズ, Kahori Higashi, 2021)

“They’re all dealing with something. They have nowhere to go back to” an old man sighs watching a cohort of similarly aged men doing callisthenics in a local park knowing that they’re about to lose this place too. A Moosic Lab production, Melting Sounds (ほとぼりメルトサウンズ, Hotobori Melt Sounds) is about what you keep and what you have to let go as the heroes try to preserve a disappearing soundscape while unable to resist the march of progress as even their little backwater finds itself at the mercy of modernising developers. 

Hoping for a solo getaway, Koto (xiangyu) arrives at the rural home of her late grandmother only to discover a strange man, Take (Keiichi Suzuki), camping in the garden. As she will repeatedly, rather than enlist the authorities Koto invites Take into the house where it’s warmer and discovers that he’s in the middle of an important project recording ambient noise from around the village attempting to capture the banal sounds of everyday life such as someone going to the dentist or a young couple having a pointless argument in the street. Meanwhile, the pair receive a visit from a young man, Yamada (Amon Hirai), bearing a tablet featuring the face of a woman, Hiroko (Umeno Uno), trying to explain to them that the house needs to be knocked down so they should hurry up and move out. Unfazed, Koto once again asks Yamada to come and sit under the kotatsu where it’s warm, the young man later taking a break from his job to stay with them under the pretext of convincing them to leave while they’re later joined by Hiroko who also becomes increasingly conflicted and decides to join their small family. 

Just as Take had said they’re all dealing with something, Koto having become estranged from her father whom she no longer talks to, Take as we discover recording the sounds on old-fashioned speaker walkmans for his late sister who was killed in a landslide, and Hiroko and Yamada each conflicted in their work for a greedy amoral developer who reveals that he too was responsible for evicting mostly elderly people from their homes in a town that has since become famous for bubble tea. The four of them are already displaced by the modern society, as are the men doing callisthenics in the park as they watch their town gradually dismantled around them, pushed out even from disappearing and depopulated rural Japan by an encroaching modernity. The developer claims he wants to rejuvenate the town to attract young people to return but is indifferent to what is being lost such as the recording of the nostalgic five o’clock chimes which so moves Hiroko, adding only that they no longer have them where they are only for Hiroko to suggest that you can only hear them if you’re pure of heart. 

Take claims he’s making a “grave of sounds” but he’s also capturing a moment in time and with it the essence of life. As he puts it everything has a sound from a flower blooming to air conditioners and church bells, each of them a part of something bigger immersed in the now. As he points out, everything comes to an end eventually, be it love or friendship or even family. The recordings are a kind of proof of life, but paradoxically also its passing the final implication being that all things have their season and it’s best to enjoy them while there’s time. Small-town Japan may be disappearing or at least changing even if the promised bubble tea might not be quite what you’d expect but that doesn’t necessarily mean it all has to go. 

Thanks to Koto’s warmheartedness, inviting each of them into the house despite having arrived for a “solo” getaway, the trio of youngsters find a new solution to their sense of lonely disconnection discovering a kindred spirit in their shared desire for something simpler and more wholesome as they play boardgames together by candlelight, making curry and gyoza sure to record the sound of them sizzling. A warm and quirky ode to the various ways life can be improved by the simple act of stopping to listen, Kahori Higashi’s laidback debut may be about learning to let things go but also appreciating what you have while you have it and taking what you can with you while being kind and openhearted even in the face of those attempting to run you out of town.


Melting Sounds screened as part of Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022

Original trailer (no subtitles)

Far Away, Further Away (遠くへ,もっと遠くへ, Shinji Imaoka, 2022)

Is there an ideal way of coming to terms with the end of a marriage, or is better to take it as it comes? The heroine of Shinji Imaoka’s relationship drama Far Away, Further Away (遠くへ,もっと遠くへ, Tooku e, Motto Tooku e) thinks she has it all figured out and has started taking practical steps towards an efficient separation only to have the rug pulled from under her never having considered that her husband may also be unsatisfied and her attempts to mitigate his hurt feelings therefore less than relevant. Imaoka began his career in pink film and is probably best known outside of Japan for the erotic musical fantasy Underwater Love but has in recent years taken to more contemplative drama such as 2019 study in grief Reiko and the Dolphin, here continuing a key theme in the exploration of the difficulties in relationships between men and women. 

The main reason Sayoko (Manami Shindo) wants to leave her husband is that they’ve simply grown apart. Smiling gently at a sweet older couple looking at a two-seater sofa in the furniture store where she works, she reflects on their words that a marriage is weaker without common interests realising that she and Goro have none. A fishing obsessive, Goro usually retreats to his room after dinner to update his blog and fondle fishing equipment while her suggestion that she join him on his next trip is met with less than enthusiasm. Meanwhile, though she likes her job at the furniture store she’s beginning to feel as if she’s stuck in a rut and no closer to achieving her dreams of becoming an interior co-ordinator disappointed to discover a quote she’d written for younger couple who seemed happy enough in the shop screwed up in the park. One might assume they’ve obviously had an argument about it on the way home which probably isn’t anything to do with Sayoko but still she begins to wonder what the point is leading to Goro to advise her to quit her job laying bare the true source of his dissatisfaction in the marriage in that he was looking for a woman prepared to become a conventional housewife which in turn might explain why he’s not interested in the shared interests approach to marriage Sayoko suggests but prefers to maintain a separate lives model in which she takes care of the domestic while he has his work and individual hobbies to blow off steam. 

So distant from each other have they become that Sayoko hasn’t really realised she’s not the only one who wanted to end the marriage nor has he seemingly realised she’s in the process of leaving him. Her plan for a measured exit is nixed by her husband’s request for a divorce but through her quest to find a new apartment she gradually draws closer to lovelorn estate agent Yohei (Kaito Yoshimura) who is particularly interested in her story as his own wife, Mitsuko, left him seemingly out of the blue some years ago and he’s never really come to terms with it a part of him still assuming she’ll eventually come back. In a bid to find some closure Sayoko suggests they take off together to look for her so he can start to move on, heading north on a Hokkaido-bound road trip that takes her back to her own hometown where she reflects on her parents’ marriage after discovering her mother’s second life as a widow in which she has begun to fulfil herself as a singer no longer required to fulfil the role of the traditional housewife which Sayoko had rejected. 

Dealing with their respective baggage the pair grow closer and begin to move on together, further and further away until they reach the coast looking for a ferry to take them on to Sakhalin. The memories of old lovers retreat further and further away too, increasingly blurred and distant eclipsed by new ones even if a sense of loneliness remains. Contrasting the verdant natural vistas of rural Hokkaido with the greyness of Tokyo city life Imaoka adds a sense of childlike wonder as his heroine’s tendency to dance while repeating the same phrase with increasing intensity begins to rub off on her dejected love interest, making the case for striking out for a far off happiness rather than simply resigning oneself to an unsatisfying present. 


Far Away, Further Away screened as part of Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022

Original trailer (no subtitles)

Switchback (スイッチバック, Shunnosuke Iwata, 2022)

Really, everything in life is a learning experience but how should you feel if something that you thought was quite profound and serendipitous was actually engineered even if the way you reacted to it wasn’t? The young heroes of Shunnosuke Iwata’s Switchback (スイッチバック) find themselves caught in a moment of confusion uncertain how far they should trust the adult world while equally at odds with each other and trying to figure out what it is they may want out of life. 

Brazilian-Japanese teenagers Arham and Chiemi are attending a summer workshop project along with basketball enthusiast Suzuka while her childhood friend Eiichiro never actually shows up. Led by Tokyo influencer Rei, the kids will be working together in order to produce a video of a ball bouncing through the countryside. By reversing the footage to make it seem as if the ball is on its own little adventure she hopes to create a sense of the uncanny and with it a new perspective. Arham doesn’t quite get the point of it, but participates anyway and ends up forming a special bond with an old man in a wheelchair they encounter who has a hobby of flying drones. Yet when he finally arrives, Eiichiro claims to have seen the old man walking around and accepting something from Rei assuming he must be some kind of stooge and the children’s adventure they’ve all been on since has been a setup. 

Arham is very invested in the old man’s story and outright rejects Eiichiro’s suggestions that he isn’t “real”, carrying out an investigation into everything he told them about a former airfield that had been built in their town during the war and was later bought by a media company for recording aerial footage. What he discovers is that all of that seems to be true save for one crucial personal detail the old man had mentioned, leaving a grain of doubt in his mind while he continues to resent Eiichiro despite being unable to come up with a reason as to why he would lie. Eiichiro is in fact not quite telling the whole truth though he’s right about the old man, engaging in a kind of engineered adventure of his own but later offers the explanation that adults too are often frustrated and they may have tried to “destroy” Arham because they’re jealous of his cheerful and openhearted nature. 

Even though he concedes that he still experienced what he experienced for himself after meeting the old man, developing an interest in drones and learning a lot of local and aviation history, Arham is uncertain how he should feel about being manipulated, disappointed on trying to confront Rei and hearing exactly the same speech as she’d used in her influencer videos explaining her approach to life and art aiming to give young people a head start in gaining new experiences without them realising that they’re being taught something even if she doesn’t otherwise attempt to push them in a particular direction simply provide the catalyst for growth. Chiemi experiences something similar when she’s offered the opportunity to become a model, a skeevy older man repeatedly telling her she is suited to the work and may have a promising future, adding that she has a quality of ferocity that “Japanese” kids don’t while she complains that she dislikes being told what does and doesn’t suit her preferring to do as she pleases whether other people think it suits her or not. 

Suzuka meanwhile quietly struggles to fit in on her own having come to the town only eight years previously hinting that she and her family may have moved in the wake of the 2011 earthquake but stating only that she doesn’t like to talk of it either traumatised or fearing stigmatisation. Unity came first security second she claims of her basketball team reflecting on the positivity she experienced as they came together before a match in the face of their opponents. The kids perhaps do something similar as they each in their own way react to adult duplicity while deciding to take it in their stride embracing the experiences they’ve had as their own. Rei’s social experiment could easily have backfired leaving them cynical and indifferent, unwilling to believe in or pursue anything fearing that there is no objective truth only manipulation but in they end they run the other way, deciding to trust each other and themselves while creating new experiences of their own. Produced in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the town of Obu in rural Aichi Prefecture, Iwata captures the beauty of the local landscape along with the natural openness it engenders in allowing the children to become fully themselves as they ride their own individual switchbacks to adulthood.   


Switchback screened as part of Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022

Original trailer (no subtitles)