Over the Town (街の上で, Rikiya Imaizumi, 2019)

Frustrated youngsters chase an unrealisable dream of idealised romance in Rikiya Imaizumi’s ode to Shimokitazawa, Over the Town (街の上で, Machi no Uede). For the moment at least known as the bohemian, avant-garde artists quarter of the contemporary capital beloved for its slightly retro quality replete as it is with narrow lanes and period buildings, Shimokitazawa is also a place of constant change but as the hero later points out even if “parts change and disappear that doesn’t mean they never existed”. Nevertheless, he seems to be marked by a particular anxiety, as do many of his age struggling to make meaningful connections in an ever shifting world. 

Ao’s (Ryuya Wakaba) world begins to crumble when he’s unexpectedly dumped by his beloved girlfriend, Yuki (Moeka Hoshi), on her birthday. Unceremoniously telling him that she’s met someone else, Yuki rationalises that breaking up is the only option but Ao tries to resist only for her to tell him that he can go on deluding himself that he still has a girlfriend but from now on she’ll be hanging out with someone new. From then on, Ao seems to be surrounded by frustrated couples and worryingly outdated ideas of romantic politics such as those of the students who drop into the vintage clothing shop where he works. Ao assumes they’re a couple, but a row slowly brews as the girl, Asako, declares herself bored with helping the guy, Shigeru, try on clothes that turn out to be for the purpose of impressing a different girl altogether despite knowing that Asako fancies him. Eventually Shigeru makes a highly inappropriate suggestion, almost akin to a bet, that if the woman he has a crush on rejects him he’ll deign to dating her even though Asako is “a distant second” in his heart. The shocking thing is that Asako agrees, a slightly mournful look in her eyes as she finally reaffirms that she really hopes it works out with the other girl. 

Throughout the exchange during which Ao looks on as an awkward bystander, it becomes increasingly difficult to see what’s so great about Shigeru. Meanwhile, not even Ao comes off particularly well, struggling to deal with his breakup and refusing to accept Yuki has moved on. So hung up on her is he that she eventually ends up contacting the barman at his favourite haunt to ask him to have a word, explaining that it’s inappropriate to go on texting your ex even if she doesn’t reply. Meanwhile, he finds himself at the centre of romantic missed connection, captivated by a sad woman at a concert who gives him a menthol cigarette he keeps in his ashtray as a kind of talisman for the rest of the picture. Infinitely awkward, he talks himself out a potential date with the cute girl at his favourite used bookstore (Kotone Furukawa) by asking an inappropriate question, later doing something similar to a woman (Seina Nakata) with whom he makes a more platonic connection as they each reflect that for some strange reason it’s much easier to open up to someone you have no romantic interest in. 

Perhaps that’s why a melancholy policeman keeps stopping random people in the street to ask their advice on his peculiar romantic dilemma in having inconveniently fallen in love with his “niece” (by marriage and the same age as he is, so maybe it’s “OK”, he’d like to think). Shimokitazawa, which Ao rarely leaves, is indeed a small world, the various strands of his romantic entanglements strangely connected from a young woman’s unrequited longing for her sumo wrestler childhood sweetheart to a TV actor’s (Ryo Narita) troubled love life and a young film director’s (Minori Hagiwara) attempt to deflect her own sense of romantic disaffection. Just as Yuki used another man as an excuse to break up with Ao, Ao finds himself recruited as a fake boyfriend to help a young woman shake off a controlling ex whose refusal to accept the relationship is over in the absence of another man skews even darker than his own signalling perhaps like that first vintage shop exchange the dangerously outdated sexual politics which continue to underpin modern dating. Perhaps boring love is the real kind of fun, comfortable and balanced marked by true connection and mutual vulnerability rather than a giddy anxiety. A stubborn holdout where everything’s secondhand in a continual circulatory process of exchange and return, Shimokitazawa is the kind of place where love finds you even if it takes a while to wander on its way. A charming ode to this timeless yet ever-changing district, Imaizumi’s quirky dramedy keeps the neurosis of young love on the horizon but suggests that romance, like a well baked cake, keeps much better than you’d think when cooled.


Over the Town screened as part of the 2021 Osaka Asian Film Festival.

Original trailer (no subtitles)

Amiko (あみこ, Yoko Yamanaka, 2017) [Fantasia 2018]

Amiko PosterSome meetings are pivotal, others merely seem so. To melancholy high school girl Amiko (Aira Sunohara), consumed by youthful ennui and a sense of the long dull years stretching out before her, Aomi (Hiroto Oshita) seemed like some kind of heaven sent emissary – a good looking guy who seems to share her existential despair, her taste in music, and her lack of motivation for the business of living. Yet the meeting comes to nothing. After a single night of walking and talking, baring their souls and confessing their anxieties, the pair never talk again. Amiko continues to pine for Aomi, turning him into some kind of absent god, though months have passed with no real contact save her semi-stalking of him online. Eventually, almost a year later, Amiko learns that her one true love has deserted her and run off to Tokyo with another girl. Stunned, she resolves to follow him in the hope of finding out why he chose to renounce all it was she thought they meant to each other to embrace the mediocrity he once claimed to hate.

Amiko is not completely alone, she has a best friend – Kanako (Maiko Mineo), though she confesses that deep down they don’t really understand each other. Aomi too seems to think that Kanako is closed off, not really trusting anyone and living a superficial life. Nevertheless, Kanako does at least provide Amiko with the opportunity to experience the regular high school girl world of gossiping about boys on the telephone and silently resenting other, more popular girls. Claiming that “ordinary poor souls” could never understand the innate connection between herself an Aomi, Amiko decides to keep her long night walk of the soul a secret from her best friend in order to secure its purity.

Amiko, based on their intimate conversation, is convinced that Aomi feels the same way she does, understands her intense sense of existential despair, and is just as bored and disconnected as she feels herself to be. Confessing that he doesn’t actually like sports, in fact he hates being outside, Aomi offers the excuse that it’s easier being told what to do than trying to figure things out on your own. Carried along by the fact he’s good at football and can’t quite find the energy to protest, Aomi drifts on a cloud of his own apathy – one of the cool set of handsome and aloof high school boys popular with those who like unattainable guys. Like Amiko he likes “deep” music, instantly recognising the Radiohead track on her phone, but eventually runs off with the kind of girl Amiko (not so) secretly despises – an airhead popular girl and the “embodiment of mass culture”.

Aomi’s betrayal isn’t just romantic heartbreak, but the severing of a spiritual connection which never really existed in the first place. Rather than deepen the engagement, Amiko opts to leave her night of connection as a mythic encounter, sanctified by its unique quality. Aomi therefore becomes a mythic figure, a composite of Amiko’s various projections of her ideal soulmate, mirroring her own sense of ideological purity. Her new god, however has feet of clay and after tracking him down in the city she’s forced to confront the distance between the image and the reality. Was their connection as real as she thought it was, or only superficial musing on a cool crisp night when there was nothing much else to do?

Deep into her teenage apathy, Amiko talks about those manic, one off days where you just might find yourself doing something crazy out of a sense of cosmic despair. Aomi puts this idea back on the table as a possible motive for his abrupt flight to the city, and Amiko’s random pursuit of him is perhaps its aftershock. Wandering around having mad adventures – joining in with a madman’s (Hisato Takahashi) condemnation of a world of lies and the non-existence of real love, testing the ability of Japanese people to dance spontaneously, and stalking Aomi’s girlfriend, Amiko begins to accept that she may have been mistaken in placing such cosmic importance on what may just have been an inconsequential night filled with accidental profundity. Preferring to maintain the “purity” of her ideal, Amiko remains trapped within her own sense of despair but with a new sense of clarity and a determination not to let the phoniness of the world destroy her essential self.


Amiko was screened as part of Fantasia International Film Festival 2018.

Original trailer (no subtitles)