Closet (クローゼット, Takehiro Shindo, 2020)

“Everyone has their own closet” according to a bereaved older man sympathetically reflecting on a life half lived. The wounded hero of Takehiro Shindo’s Closet (クローゼット) is about to discover he may have a point as he works through his own issues, finally coming to an understanding of the true nature of intimacy before learning to open himself up to living life true to himself realising that perhaps his very ordinary dream is not as hopeless as he thought it was if only he can bring himself to put his male pride aside. 

Returning to Tokyo following a failed engagement, Jin (Yosuke Minogawa) finds himself taking on an unusual line of work on the invitation of an old friend, embarking on a career as a sleep companion. Essentially, he’s there to lie beside a lonely person offering a safe and supportive space where they can relax and be their authentic selves free from the judgement they may otherwise receive from a friend or a lover. Ironically enough, Jin is a man of few words, his fiancée once asking him to be a little more sociable when her parents visit, which means he’s a good listener but slow to adapt to the true purpose of his work. His first client, a harried hospital worker, seemingly just wants to destress but mostly through having someone listen to her rant about workplace concerns and nod along sympathetically rather than offer earnest advice. As his boss Takagi (Shinji Ozeki) reminds him, it’s all about empathy, or at least telling them what they want to hear which may sound insincere but in another sense may not be. 

As the old man says, everyone has something they don’t really want to let out but the presence of the sleep companion is intended to ease the burden and provide temporary relief. Jo Shimoda (Ikkei Watanabe), is grieving for his late partner who remained in the closet for the entirety of their relationship leaving him now with nothing but intangible memories. He asks Jin to put on the other man’s pajamas, experiencing the warmth and comfort he misses from his absent lover and gaining through it the ability to begin moving on. Kaori (Iku Arai), meanwhile, is a harried executive, or at least she claims, apparently in love with a slightly younger colleague but unsure if her crush is appropriate while worrying that she’s in danger of missing the boat both in love and in her career. 

A young student from the country, Nanami (Aino Kuribayashi), on the other hand, is in search of the kind of comfort she does not receive from her no good boyfriend, realising only too late that his treatment of her is abusive and their relationship is built on exploitation. Jin had in a sense experienced something similar, ruining his relationship in a crisis of masculinity. It is of course he who also receives warmth and support through his role as a companion, but the job also allows him to reconfigure his idea of what it is to be a man in providing a sense of safety, protection, and comfort while engaging in a true intimacy that is not defined by sexuality.

Through their shared experiences, both Jin and the sleepless companions begin to grow in confidence, accepting themselves for who they are and preparing to move on into a more authentic future even if for some the path turns darker before it reaches the light. Stepping out of their individual closets, they no longer feel so insecure finally gaining the courage to live as their true selves no matter what anyone else might have to say about it in the knowledge that others too are also suffering and might be led out of it by their example. A gentle tale of the simple power of human intimacy to overcome a sense of existential loneliness and individual despair, Closet allows its reticent hero to find new meaning in the ability to accept from and give to others comfort while coming to terms with his own traumatic past in realising that he is not and never was defined by conventional ideas of masculinity and that he is not worthless solely because he is no longer able to fulfil them. Perhaps that small yet infinitely ordinary dream is not so out of reach after all. 


Closet screened as part of this year’s Camera Japan

Original trailer (no subtitles)

His Bad Blood (いつくしみふかき, Koichiro Oyama, 2019) [Fantasia 2019]

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)