Koji (Takayoshi Shiokawa) forgets everything, waking up each morning with no memory of his previous life. In fact, Koji is only a name he has chosen for himself as he is unable to remember his past. When he meets Hinako (Meiko), who suffers with the same condition, the two set out to find a way to restore their memories. When we first meet Koji, he is living in a part-built apartment, without any walls, and only a matress, chair and television furnishing the empty space. His bearded, unkempt appearance is explained by his condition, as he forgets to shave, his lack of memory meaning he is never able to progress, essentially each day seeming to him like his first and last. He has only few connections with the world, including a love of baseball, and documents his life with a digital video camera. Hinako is also a lost soul, unable to root her existence in anything permanent, until her connection with Koji provides some form of comfort and solidity.

Based on a screenplay by Takayoshi Shiokawa, who also plays the lead Koji, “Scherzo” is a poignant character study of a man who has lost touch with society. We never find out the cause of Koji or Hinako’s memory loss, the facts of the condition being less important than what it tells us about the modern world. It is a simple, effective way to portray two people who are adrift in society, directionless, lacking any real emotional connection to the world or others in it. The film excels at telling this story visually, with Koji’s living space being a perfect example, or the poignant shots of him alone at various popular date spots. The lack of walls, the snatches of scrawled memos, and the striking image of the television and chair, are rich in metaphor, giving us a powerful emotional sense of his mental state without the need for exposition. The film does provide moments of humour, such as Koji’s trip to a bar without any means of paying, or the first morning Koji and Hinako wake up together with no memory of who or where they are. These lighter moments help to puncture some of the sombre, existential dread that characterises much of the film. The performances, by Takayoshi Shioyokawa as Koji and Meiko as Hinako, are excellent, and the two work well together. It would be hard to call this even an unconventional romance, as other than their shared condition the two seem a poor match; but their chemistry and naturalistic performances are engaging. Much of the film is concerned with memory making, Koji’s video recorder and Hinako’s polaroid camera both playing an important role in telling the story. The film draws us into their wold by having cuts with a stark blue screen of a video camera breaking up scenes, and often switching to Koji’s recordings, creating an uneven sense of time passing, as if we are only seeing brief glimpses of their lives. Many sequences are filmed in a guerrila, documentary like style, feeling like an authentic date diary between the leads, further helping build empathy and understandig with them. In keeping with the classical music-inspired title, the film features a piano score that lends depth to the film. Late in the film we see a series of documentary style vox-pops asking people if there is anyone they love in the world. By using these genuine responses the film deftly sidesteps sentimentalism in expressing its central theme, the importance of human connection and affection.

The meaning of “Scherzo” as a short musical composition is telling as the title of the film. Both Koji and Hinako are only able to live their lives in the moment, a fleeting experience that is untethered from both the past and the future. The use of the camera, as well as being a novel storytelling device, also serves a thematic purpose, showing the impermenance and fallibility of memory. When Hinako questions the difference between a memory and a recording, it is a thought that stays with the viewer and one that colours much of what happens throughout the film. A second important thread to the film is the primacy of recordings and media in society, and perhaps an obsession with looking back rather than living in the moment. The film begins with a stacatto, distorted video of Hinako singing in the rain and Koji can often be seen looking over photographs and video in an attempt to recall things that have happened. The camera serves as both a useful tool for him, but also distances him from his experiences. Everything he receives is second hand, he is forever looking back on events, unable to recapture the emotions connected with them. In the positioning of the television and chair in his living space we also see a warning to a society fixated on media, as opposed to looking out to the world around them and having genuine experiences. An engaging film that raises interesting questions with an interesting concept and two fantastic lead performances.

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