Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 26, 2020 10:47 pm 
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With a friend like Kazuya. . . a stylish slow-burner

The Murders of Oiso is actually the Japan-set collaboration of three 2015 alumni of the Busan Festival's Asian Film Academy, Takuya Misawa, Fei Pang Wong and Cyrus Tang, with Misawa in charge and working with a Hong Kong film crew including cinematographer Timliu Liu. It's a slow-burner character study that's at once very Japanese and reminiscent of a 19th-century long short story. In cinematic terms the collaborators could have been thinking of Hou Hsiau-hsien's classic The Boys from Fengkuei, or equally of Fellini's thirty-years-earlier I Vitelloni. (In an interview he mentions only wanting to express, obliquely, social and gender issues.)

The look of the film, with its wide aspect ratio, autumnal colors, and yellow filters, is quite distinctive and appealing - and delicately distancing, appropriately because all this is as recollected, sketched in words on paper, by a woman involved and Misawa himself. The opening shots are of boys in gymn class, figures moving back and forth intentionally paralleled to flocks of birds. The cutting skips gleefully from one location to another and the camera cuts off some identifying features, both camerawork and editing at times willfully withholding in style, declaring the inbred nature of the action.

This version of dissolute young men revolves around three slacker locals, Shun (Shun (Koji Moriya), Tomoki (Haya Nakazaki), and Eita (Shugo Nagashima) who work for a construction company and hang out with the evidently obnoxious Kazuya (Yusaku Mori), who's their age and drinks and smokes and plays cards with them yet has ceased to consider himself their equal because, while impecunious at the moment, he will inherit the company. And that comes sooner than expected. The stage is the small coastal town, Shonan, Oiso in Kanagawa Prefecture. They all live where they were born and raised, but their friendship is altered by the death of their basketball coach at school, who is Kazuya's uncle, and is found dead. Shun is attracted to Senri, the widow of his teacher. Tomoki shows a relentless commitment to Shun's behavior. Kazuya decides to break the law because he needs to raise money for his family. he tall, shaggy-haired Eita seems to owe some kind of debt to Kazuya. The presence of Eita's girlfriend, Saki (Ena Koshino), puts the others continually ill at ease, particularly Kazuya.

Eventually on a long night of drinking in the storage space where the boys hang out, Eita unwittingly puts his fiancee at risk with Kazuya. And that is when all the tension and unease become intense. Family and friends, the intimate relationships that have been build up are flipped; awareness of the outside world has made everything unnatural now. At the end of the story, it seems as if the curtain is falling on a tragedy.

As online critic Selina Lee bluntly puts it, Murders of Oiso is a story of "pent-up aggression "and "toxic masculine friendship." The vitelloni-style idleness is made confusing by the fact that they're working, but all the focus is on the hanging-out and nearly meaningless chatter - despite sketching in of all kinds of events in the larger local world. The action's main space is always the small, garage-like storage space with a pull-down corrugated door where one of the boys, Tomoko, sleeps and the others come to hang out.

Lee further notes that throughout the film "bodies are found" and "family secrets are revealed" but "in Misawa's controlled hand" these events that might normally be considered "major plot points" (of a noirish nature) are "greeted with impassive shrugs." And the visual is never forgotten, as a sense of aesthetic detachment: there are "frequent shots of verdant ginko leaves, radiating sunshine" (with much emphasis in suites of images upon yellow objects), and "breaking waves" that "bear witness to everything that's concealed from the audience."

The way the apparent tragedy is resolved is rather facile (the title is a tease), and the film leaves a tad too many lacunae. But along with the youthfulness of the filmmaking there is a keen sense of the visual, a feeling for tense small town claustrophobia, and a play with character that's interesting in the way it considers the interplay of class and personality.

In an interview Misawa admits he's uncertain if the audience will get what he was trying to do in The Murders of Oiso. But one feels the filmmaker's passion, enhanced by the skillful Hong Kong crew and the restrained score performed by Eiji Iwamoto, which are pro all the way.

The Murders of Oiso, 79 mins., debuted at Busan Oct. 2019, also showed at South Taiwan, two Hong Kong festivals, and Osaka. Theatrical release in Hong Kong in June 2020. Screened for this review as part of the all-online pandemic 2020 edition of New York Japan Cuts.

The festival is entirely online this year. Anyone in the US can watch it, paying a small fee for each individual film, from July 17-30, 2020. Go HERE to access the films

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