Intolerance (2021) by Keisuke Yoshida

A father comes to terms with his daughter’s accidental death in this powerful examination of grief. When Kanon (Aoi Ito) is caught shoplifting at a local supermarket, she is chased down the street by the owner-manager Naoto (Tori Matsuzaka). After dashing out into the road Kanon is hit by a car and then a truck, killing her instantly. Kanon’s father Mitsuru (Arata Furuta) blames Naoto for his daughter’s death, believing rumours that he has a predilection for young girls and may have interfered with Kanon. Separated from his wife, Shoko (Tomoko Tabata), Kanon’s mother, Mitsuru has little support aside from his young co-worker. Naoto is supported through the difficult aftermath and public scruitiny by one of his colleagues Asako (Shinobu Terajima), who refuses to believe he is responsible.

“Intolerance”, written and directed by Keisuke Yoshida, is a rumination on the grieving process. The scene of Kanon’s death is depicted brutally and shockingly, although not overly graphic the audience experiences the sudden violence of the acccident. We are shown little before the accident, other than her uncomfortable relationship with her overbearing father. Mitsuru is a stern disciplinarian who has little interest in his daughter’s life before her sudden death. What unfolds after the action is a heart-wrenching portrayal of parental loss. Arata Furuta gives an astounding performance as Mitsuru, driven by anger against those he believes are responsible mixed with his own sense of regret that he showed little affection for his daughter when she was alive. A complex character, far from a perfect father-figure, he seems to want to make amends for past failures by lashing out at the world and placing the blame on others. Tori Matsuzaka’s Naoto is also overcome by a deep sense of shame, realising that he is in part responsible for the death and perhaps regretting his actions. “Intolerance” is shot in a down-to-earth, everyday style, with the supermarket and streets of the fishing town where it is set depicted without embellishment. It is a perfectly ordinary place, with ordinary people experiencing a tragic and extraordinary event in the death of this schoolgirl, showing the impact of this loss on those connected with Kanon.

As well as the utter despair and impotence that Mitsuru feels the film also touches on how such incidents are often manipulated by the media and how people who are not involved can effect public perception. Shortly after the accident the media descend on Naoto’s supermarket and Mitsuru’s home asking for interviews. And we see in short newsroom sequences, and social media, the public rapidly develop their own assessments of those involved and what happened free of facts or first-hand knowledge of these people or the emotional turmoil they are going through. The death of Kanon finally provokes Mitsuru to take an interest in his daughter’s life, interrogating her teachers about bullying concerns, accusing Naoto of lying about her shoplifting, and even reacting harshly to his ex-wife’s attempts to calm him. Mitsuru’s growing acceptance of what has happened and final feeling of connection with her is bitter-sweet as it comes with the realisation that he will never have a chance to express his affection for her. A touching film about loss and how its impact can change people.

The Sound of Grass (2021) by Hisashi Saito

Kazuo (Masahiro Higashide) is taken to a psychologist after suffering a stress-related breakdown who recommends a break from work, medication and regular excercise. Kazuo soon takes to his new hobby of running, setting out on solitary jogs morning and evening every day. His partner Junko (Nao) is supportive but finds his low mood frustrating, a problem exacerbated by her pregnancy. Meanwhile, Kazuo’s friend Kenji (Shunsuke Daito) tries to help him as best he can. At the same time transfer student Akira (Kaya) is struggling to fit in with his classmates, finding friendship with another lost soul in the shape of Hiroto (Yuta Hayashi) and his sister Minami (Yuki Mine). The three youths often see Kazuo on his daily circuit, neither aware of the others problems.

“The Sound of Grass” is based on a story by novelist Yasushi Sato, who took his own life in 1990. It is often a difficult watch, its themes of depression and suicide amplified by a relentlessly oppressive atmosphere. The film opens with a long sequence of Akira skateboarding through the largely deserted streets of Hakodate, the port city where the film takes place, an impressive sequence that typifies the film’s superlative cinematography and direction by Hisashi Saito. With wide shots of the city, parks and port, we get a sense of place and reality that also work in harmony with the story, with the conflicting sense of life surrounding Kazuo being both immediate and remote. The audience is taken along with Kazuo as he runs around the city, crossing the large bridge, climbing the park steps, or circling the carpark. These sequences, soundtracked by an uplifting piano score, stand in stark contrast to the moments when he is at home or in conversation with others, that seem to lack energy. That may seem like a criticism, but it perfectly replicates the hopelessness and sense of stasis that typifies mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, as well as the fluctuation between highs and lows. His illness doesn’t express itself in wild outbursts but in a complete lack of energy or interest in things around him. Higashide gives an incredible performance as Kazuo, and his scenes with Nao’s Junko are heartbreaking to watch as these two characters, who clearly love one another are unable to traverse the vast unseen divide between them. The story of Akira, Hiroto and Minami, is almost a separate, yet parallel story, linked only by themes of isolation and suicide. Mental health can be difficult to depcit on film, without straying into cliche or exploitative exageration, but “The Sound of Grass” presents a realistic view of this issue that can go unseen and have devastating consequences.

In a more conventional film, you might imagine that Kazuo’s running would be the miracle cure to his illness; or that Akira finding friends would lead to an uplifting ending to comfort the audience. “The Sound of Grass” avoids such easy solutions, showing that mental health issues are not something that can easily be resolved by taking up excercise or talking to people, although both of these can be helpful in combatting the worse effects of depression. In its lack of simple answers, or comforting conclusions, the film offers a powerful, emotional, and discomforting depiction of depression. The naturalistic performances from the whole cast help to build this sense of real people with real concerns. What makes the film powerful is not that it is extreme, or shocking, but that it is painfully believable. Not an easy watch, but a worthwhile exploration of this important subject.

Shrieking in the Rain (2021) by Eiji Uchida

A first-time female director battles studio executives, chauvanistic crew members, and the ratings board, as she tries to bring her vision to life in this comedy-drama from Eiji Uchida. Hanako (Marika Matsumoto) is directing her debut film, an erotic thriller about love and betrayal. Lacking the confidence to stand up to her overbearing crew, consisting of older male lighting and camera operators, she feels as if she is losing control of the production as she navigates various vested interests such as the producer’s desire that it not be slapped with a restricted rating that will damage their box office takings. Hanako is far from the only member of the cast and crew struggling with the film. Older actress Kaede (Maeko Oyama) sees the film as her last chance to prove her acting ability, willing to go all the way in the final sex scene to show that she is a true artist; and Yoshie (Serena Motola), an aspiring camera woman, is facing the same sexism as Hanako.

“Shrieking in the Rain” is a comedy-drama film with an uplifting atmosphere reminiscent of a less cynical world. Set in 1988 it shows a film industry that is a very male-dominated environment, one in which Hanako’s ostensible power as a director is continually undermined by her lack of authority as a women with the men around her. Things perhaps haven’t changed enough in the industry to this day, but the choice of setting does allow the film-makers to push some of the behaviour, with women being smacked round the head or shouted at in front of the entire studio, to an extreme perhaps consigned to history. Most of the film takes place in the single film set or the nearby studio buildings. It has a behind-the-scenes feel as we watch what happens on the other side of the camera, with this motley crew working to capture the pivotal scenes of their movie. The cinematography by Kenji Noguchi, has a beautiful sunset feel of late-eighties nostalgia.

We often see Hanako surrounded by her crew and actors, visually establishing the power dynamics and the sense of pressure she feels from all sides. The three women who provide the backbone of the story, Hanako, Yoshie and Kaede, are all enjoyable characters with actors Marika Matsumoto, Serena Motola and Maeko Oyama giving powerful performances as women beset by an inhospitable world of entrenched sexism and self-important men. “Shrieking in the Rain” tackles these issues with a light touch, providing plenty of comedy to ensure that it never feels like a sermon on the wrongs of the film industry. This lighthearted approach to the drama is emphasized by the sentimental score, often indistinguishable from the melodrama of the film within a film. It is a testament ot the film’s whimsicality that the final sequence, an all-out song and dance number performed by the crew, does not seem out of place beside the more serious themes, not to mention the nudity and sex of the production they are filming.

The film recreates in the microcosm of this single film studio a sense of what many women in the workplace have to contend with. Hanako is far from incompetent, even though she is a newcomer to directing, but she is constantly chastised for her decisions, being asked why she needs another take or why she cannot simply change her plans for certain scenes to make them suitable for a general audience. It can be hard to understand why Hanako persists and it seems even she has her doubts about whether she is in the right job. A particular traumatic memory from her past seems to drive her creativity and determination to finish this film and this past trauma seems to chime particularly the other women on the production, although their own pasts remain unknown. Hanako’s relationship with Yoshie, who looks up to her as a female role model is touching and you find yourself willing them to succeed against the ignorant behaviour of the male crew. However, the film is far from a polemic against chauvanism, with many other aspects and subplots to enjoy. The foremost amongst them is the power of film itself to transport people, as the experienced actor Kazuto (Yuma Yamoto) explains to pop-idol Shinji (Kenta Suga), to another world. The introduction of a character working for the film classification board allows for some ridiculing of the often nonsensical rules defining lewdness or inappropriate behaviour in film. And Kaede’s character depicts the difficulties of aging in an industry obsessed with youth. A fantastic cast in a film packed with interesting characters, each showing an aspect of the film-making process or problems associated with it, “Shrieking in the Rain” is sure to entertain film fans looking for a lighthearted take on the industry.

The Fable: The Killer Who Doesn’t Kill (2021) by Kan Eguchi

Following on directly from the first “Fable” film, we find the legendary hitman (Junichi Okada) living under his secret identity of Akira Sato in Osaka, alongside his associate posing as his sister (Fumino Kimura). He is still working at the design company alongside Misaki (Mizuki Yamamoto) and Kainuma (Masao Yoshii). Sato’s past comes back to haunt him in the form of Utsubo (Shinichi Tsutsumi), a former target who is now running a non-profit organization for disadvantaged children as a front for his criminal activities. Four years ago Fable took down five members of his group, but was called off killing Utsubo himsel. Utsubo is out to avenge his brother’s death. Sato is also reunited with a young woman, Hinako (Yurina Hirate) who he saved from the gang, but whose spine was damaged in the rescue.

“The Killer Who Doesn’t Kill” is an enjoyable follow up to the first film, delivering the same mix of action and comedy. The first film had its problems with uneven tone and pacing, neither of which are fixed here. Essentially this sequel succeeds and fails in all the same ways as the previous film. The film recycles several weak gags, such as the Jackal Tomioka and hot food elements of Fable’s character, and again the odd blend of slapstick alongside genuinely gruesome killings and abuse is often hard to reconcile. The opening action sequence is incredible and there are some highly entertaining and inventive action moments, with use of extreme slow-motion to show Fable’s incredible reflexes. The film often seems at a loss when outside of these action moments, struggling to know exactly what to do with the characters, who are largely stereotypical action heroes or villains. The story of Hinako is a welcome addition, adding some much needed emotion and the way the characters backstories are intertwined is interesting. This time there is far more of a connection to Fable’s past and therefore it feels far more meaningful. Yoko is also given more to do in this film, showing her own martial prowess.

Fans of the first film will enjoy this and it delivers some fantastic fight scenes and action. It is hard to see why they wouldn’t simply go for a straight-up action film, retaining some of the better character-led comedy while removing the sillier elements. It’s a missed opportunity as taken individually there are some incredible scenes, but it often feels like two distinct films spliced together, one an ultra-violent and stylish underworld thriller and the other a wacky comedy. Overall, the film is an improvement on the first and certainly has elements to recommend it despite its flaws.

We Couldn’t Become Adults (2021) by Yoshihiro Mori

A man in his mid-40’s begins to think back on his previous relationships and heartbreak. Makoto Sato (Mirai Moriyama) is working as a graphic designer, creating animations and visuals for television. Suddenly confronted by middle-age, and realising he has become, in his words, “boring”, he begins to reminisce about his life and how he ended up here. He begins writing a memoir, working backwards through the years as we see his most recent relationship that ended badly due to his lack of commitment; a liaison with Sue (Sumire), and perhaps his most meaningful and poignant relationship with Kaori Kato (Sairi Ito).

Directed by Yoshihiro Mori, with a screenplay by Ryo Takada based on Moegara’s book of the same name, “We Couldn’t Become Adults” has a reverse chronological narrative, beginning in the present and taking us through the 2000’s to the 1990’s. While this is an interesting way to tell the story, but often hinders attempts to understand and relate to Sato’s character. In Christopher Nolan’s “Memento”, this backwards narrative served to bring us to an appreciation of the way the character’s memories worked, while here it distances us from the character (who presumably has a chronological memory of these events). A better approach may have been to mix the memories up, perhaps to better draw together repeating symbols or moments, such as the breakups, or the beginnings of relationships, places where Sato made the same mistakes or was influenced by earlier experiences. It requires a lot of the audience in asking them to remember scenes through the reverse-chronology and piece the narrative together at the end. The story running backwards also unfortunately undermines some of the emotionality of the film, as we are not shown the character’s relationships before the breakup, but vice versa. Despite this the film does feature some fantastic performances, from Mirai Moriyama and Sairi Ito in particular. Their understated romance is believable, with its own quirks, and the couple have good chemistry. As in life things move along, and Sato recalls his past as a series of memorable moments that have meaning for him. The film does a great job of depicting the quiet night streets of Tokyo, a sense of emptiness amongst this mass of humanity.

“We Couldn’t Become Adults” is a downbeat, often depressing film, especially for those who have been through failed relationships or are nearing middle-age. The character of Sato is sympathetic in his belief that he has not achieved anything, that his life has led him nowhere, his melancholy further exacerbated by an inability to commit to relationships following past heartbreak with Kaori. The film’s reverse narrative symbolises this human characteristic of constantly looking backwards, searching for meaning in the past, that can often hinder progress. Sato is stuck in the past, but also (as the adage goes) doomed to repeat it. His relationships fail because he is always judging them against an idealised vision of the past. So while the film takes us back from his less-than-perfect present situation, to what he believes was the best part of his life, we also realise that his current depression and loneliness is due perhaps to a misremembering of this same past, and inability to recognize the positives that he has missed along the way. The film is a nuanced character study of a man repeatedly failing to deal with heartbreak, and trapped in his own memories of happier times. Excellent performances and cinematography certainly make it worth a watch, but at times it can be a difficult experience to witness this man’s yearning for a joy that will remain permanently out of reach.