Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 11, 2021 12:15 pm 
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RIKIYA IMAIZUMI: OVER THE TOWN 街の上で (2020) -New York Asian Film Festival (Aug. 6-22, 2021)

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Shimokita boy and the ladies

I see that Imaizumi is a specialist in youthful romantic comedies and in addition to several TV series, this is about his 16th feature film. If I'd seen anything else by him it would have helped to get more quickly on the wavelength, and this is something of an acquired taste. His protagonist this time, Ao Arakawa (Ryuya Wakaba), is one of a group of slacker millennials who hang out or work in Tokyo's punk Shimokitazawa district. I find in Asian Movie Pulse the further note:

"Shimokitazawa, or Shimokita, is a hip cultural quarter with a lingering old-Tokyo vibe. Narrow, mural-painted lanes are lined with stylish stores for vintage clothes and vinyl. Craft cafes and brewpubs host art shows and live bands, while bakeries and bistros serve inventive pastries and veggie curries. Edgy new plays debut at Honda Gekijo Theater, and young directors screen short movies at Tollywood cinema. Rikiya Imaizumi directs a film that aims at transferring the overall atmosphere of the area through a number of youths that inhabit it, while playing with the term moteki, which refers to a period in people’s lives when they become increasingly popular with the opposite sex."

Ao's relation to moteki is indicated by the fact that his girlfriend, Yuki (Moeka Hoshi), dumps him, but comes back to him at the end; that the female dynamo of the piece, a young woman who makes a movie (Minori Hagiwara), seems to be 'hitting on' him, and he has a long, nice conversation with a new woman (Seina Nakata) and stays overnight at her roomy Shimokitazawa pad. All in all four women come his way; and though he may not know what to do with them, he isn't running away either.

Imaizumi achieves an almost Beckettian stasis with his twenty-somethings: a lot of time is devoted to the drollery of casting someone for the film who will only sit reading a book. Indeed this is found not to be as easy as it sounds: Ao, though all he does in the tiny secondhand clothing store where he works days is sit reading, where the fledgling director has found and probably been admiring him, he proves quite unable to seem natural doing this on camera. This despite having practiced it while a girl friend filmed him over and over and he painstakingly studied his technique: every time at the film shoot he clutches up and is "stiff as a board" and his scene winds up being cut, though he is eased out without this being revealed to him.

The film reads as a series of interrelated vignettes, some very brief, one Ao's lengthy chat with a new female acquaintance where they both open up about their love lives, freely spun out. A thing that appeals is Imaizumi's ability to draw out random dialogue, as when a policeman stops Ao and they each keep on batting the conversational ball back and forth: is Tokyo so friendly? Maybe Shimokitazawa is.

What is an actor? That's one question raised here. Another is what is a celebrity? A young actor in a TV series who's consented to play in the film school final film turns out to arouses all sorts of different feelings in other cast members; and his girlfriend dumps him because he makes her uncomfortable; maybe he can't act natural in real life.

There are a lot of characters, a lot of young people's relationship issues, and a lot of ideas brought to bear in Over the Town. In fact Imaizumi might have done better to pare down a bit, especially since the two-hour run-time is a lot of this kind of material, where lightness is the rule - though one appreciates that for farce there's a need to juggle a lot of characters. Reviewing some of his other features reveals that he routinely goes for two hours, so it must work for him and his audience. Bring a sandwich. There is more here than meets the eye.

Over the Town 街の上で (lit., "On the Street"), 130 mins., Golden Rooster Festival. Theatrical release in Japan Apr. 9, 2021. Aug. 8 (internet) NY Asian Film FEstival.

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