Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 12, 2023 3:28 pm 
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Unusual girl

Based on Natsuko Imamura’s multiple-prize-winning 2010 debut novel, Atarashii Musume ("New Daughter"), this is about a schoolgirl in an unspoiled, indulgent Japan that nonetheless has trouble dealing with her - or at least her father does. As the girl, Amiko, Kana Osawa steals nearly every scene (there's a little boy in her class who holds it pretty well a couple of times though). As her parents, Arata Iura and Machiko Ono do well, but lack equal voltage. Mark Schilling of The Japan Times is reminded by Osawa of Yuya Yagira, the child lead in Hirakasu Koreeda's memorable film about abandonedchildren, Nobody Knows. Both he says have "the same piercing look, sense of being ferally apart from the general run of humanity."

This is a portrait that takes into a sensibility that's impenetrable. But this is very Japanese, because the Japanese normally hold back, and communicate by hints, which sometimes remain unknown. Amiko's self-possession is, nonetheless, a wonder, but also a danger. Some have speculated if she is "on the spectrum," though director Morii prefers to think not, or to disregard the question. The fact is Amiko's not the only person with issues here.

Amiko's family seems to exist independent of her and she of it, though this proves not the case. Not surprisingly she and her older brother are ships that pass in the night. It seems also the mother is a new arrival, whose big mole on the chin causes remark from her and her brother. Amiko has nothing to do with the rushing off of the latter, to hospital, to have a baby. But when her father returns, and later her new mother, with no baby, she does notice, and is sad, first for her mother, and later for herself. She sees there as being a lost or missing little brother, and the way she calls attention to this is profoundly disturbing to her mother, who goes into a chain of wailing by Amiko's gesture, and remains in decline. Amiko's father is gentle and quiet. But that also means withdrawn and ineffectual, and this leads to his solving the clash between Amiko and his wife in a way that is needlessly cruel.

That is the situation at home. There is also life at school, which takes up much of Amiko's time and shows she's outside the norm, also unable to cope well with studies. She goes around barefoot, sings in class, and isn't keeping up with lessons. A classmate, the only one who addresses her, tells her she stinks and advises her to wash. He mocks her ignorance of the writing system displayed in classmate's calligraphy samples on the wall. Ironically, Amiko's mother teaches calligraphy, and she was going to be included as a friendly gesture, despite her backwardness.

This little boy is the best drawn and most appealing character in the film. It emerges that despite his teasing and sharpness, he is there: he is willing to talk to her. In his last speech to her, when she's about to be sent to her grandmother's and to another school, is not to forget him. He recognizes that Amiko is in love with another boy, Nori, who has no use for her. When she declares her love to Nori he attacks her and she leaves school for the last time with a bloody nose.

This is strange, vivid stuff - set off by classic traditional Japanese house interiors and the verdant coastal hillside identified by some writers as Hiroshima, though others suggest it's to be identified onl as "a provincial coastal town." But director Morii handles it with great clarity, even if overall the story is too ambiguous and unpleasant to be satisfying.

Amiko こちらあみ子, 104 min., was screened for this review as part of Japan Cuts, New York (July 26-Aug. 6, 2023, where it was shown Tuesday, August 1, 2023, 6:00 pm, and on Aug. 9 was awarded the the third Obayashi Prize from the festival's Next Generation section . The citation noted how adeptly the film recreates the little girl's "vivid auditory and visual world."

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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