Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Sep 02, 2020 7:21 am 
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Bullies as victims: you can run but you can't hide

This second stab by Naiko Eisuke at a movie about bullying - the first was a bullied person's revenge flick, gruesome but satisfying to some tastes - has justifiably received more recognition. It gets more into the complexities, seeing the bully as victim and noting the cruel destructiveness of contemporary social media attacks. Eisuke doesn't sustain his style throughout; he seems more obsessed with his subject than with his art. But it stays lively throughout. He has performed the difficult feat of making a memorable film about a well-worn topic.

The early segment has an artful wildness. It's playful, then dead serious. It follows with nimble camera the group of four bully boys, young teenage pre-delinquents, out in a wasteland. Their leader is Kira Ichikawa (the striking Yu Uemura). Another boy, Itsuki (Takuya Abe), who is bullied, arrives with a small homemade crossbow made out of chopsticks, a flimsy thing. Only a miracle turns it into a murder weapon. Kira aims it at Gurimu (Ryuju Sumikawa), another, smaller bullied boy. Itsuki steps in front of Gurimu to protect him, and Kira shoots, catching Itsuki in the neck, and the boys run off and leave him to bleed out and die. All this has a shocking blunt vérité clarity.

Also simple, flowing, and effective is the quiet police interrogation of Kira at home, with his parents very much in evidence. The judicial trial that follows with the devastated parents of the dead Itsuki present, the whole thing seeming too flat and rapid, also feels like a reasonable simulacrum of the event. After that, where there were more choices where to go with scenes, the energy and focus dissipate.

A saving grace is Kira. He is made to seem a dark void in the center of everything, a person mysterious even to himself. He's strong at first only because he's inert. He's the exact opposite of the hyper-conscious monster (who commits a massacre with a crossbow) played by Ezra Miller in Lynne Ramsey's We Need to Talk About Kevin. Yu Uemura, whom Max Scilling in his admiring Japan Times[/I review has compared to the bright-eyed Yuya Yagura of Koreeda's masterful [I]Nobody Knows, holds the increasingly busy and turbulent film together. He has a kind of feral grace, seeming both pretty and damaged, with a rough look and a scar under his left eye from being bullied himself, looking alternately hurt, vulnerable, and defiant.

After the incident and the judge's decision absolving Kira, comes the hard part - which shows what a tough, demanding movie this is to watch (that's why it should be more spare and precise).The focus is on the aftermath. At first Kira is hanging around with his pals again, but then other boys come and beat him up horribly - their action polished off by Gurimu, the boy he used to bully, landing him in the hospital. Kira's father (Mihara Tetsuro) is fired from his job, and even his defiant mother gets the message.

What they need is witness protection, but that's not available. In fact, though their disappearance temporarily complicates that, Itsuki's parents are initiating a civil suit against Kira. They move somewhere else and Kira goes to a new school under a new name. He's a smoker now and a loner, followed by Momoko (Yukino Nagura), a girl from school good at making stuff. She helps him rebuild a crossbow (really?). She's an outsider too, accused of dating her adult drama teacher, participating in an illicit relationship.

We go back and forth to a discussion of bullying in Kira's class, broken up into groups to hash out the issue. This is when the idea comes up that the real victim is the bully. The bullied person is the root cause of the bullying: blame the victim. Kira is silent and hiding in multiple hoodies. But his story is all over the internet, and his classmates are all over the internet too, and one of them outs him in the bullying discussion class. All this is certainly a bit on the literal side but shows Eisuke's flair for wrangling groups of kids. After that, the screen goes media-mad for a while, and Kira's mom is lured into writing a defensive memoir that's reviled, but well-publicized in a tabloid magazine. Somehow all the media stuff doesn't overwhelm the personal side. It's hyper-active and distracted: that that's the world we live in now.

Schilling writes that Forgiven Children (the actual translation of the Japanese title, for a change) has "a legal, moral and psychological complexity" that shows "the messiness of reality," in which "storybook endings have no place." He's referring to bullying films where there's retribution, or reform.

The film meanders, but the intense, theatrical scene when Kira gets outed in the classroom is still great, both horrific and funny, with the chant of "Tweet it! Tweet it!" Kira and his parents must flee again, Itsuki's parents find them, and the father flees. Shinri, Kira's mother (Kuroiwa Yoshi) remains his unshakable ally. The screen is repeatedly filled with tweets and texts, videos, and other online media blasts - a busy, destructive cyber world where you can run but you can't hide. It's called "the Riverbed Case" - a homage to Keanu Reeves' debut, perhaps?

At the end, which goes on too long, Eisuke tries for some poetic and surreal moments and celebrates the bond between Kira and his mother, with nods to earlier coming of age classics (Clio Barnard? Shane Meadows, perhaps?) and a moment of positivity, fruit tart, and coffee, offering sweetness, smiles, and a little hope. For all his mixed messages Eisuke winds up making a solider and more humane movie this time. His persistence with this familiar theme has taken him to a new level.

Forgiven Children 許された子どもたち, 131 mins., opened in Japan Jun. 1, 2020. It was screened for this review as part of the 2020 virtual New York Asian Film Festival (Aug 28-Sept. 12).


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