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.

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.

Life: Untitled (2019) by Kana Yamada

A group of young women working at an escort agency attempt to come to terms with the lives that have brought them to this point. Kano (Sairi Ito) runs out on her first client, deciding to work at the company “Crazy Bunny” as a general staff rather than an escort. She gets on with most of the other women, feeling the same sense of failure and societal pressure that has led her to this job. The large group of employees include number one girl, Mahiru (Yuri Tsunematsu), manager Kawashima (Hanya), driver Ryota (Tanaka Shunsuke), quiet Chika and old-timer Shiho (Reiko Kataoka). A new girl Riyu (Tomoko Nozaki) clashes with the strong-willed Atsuko (Aimi Satsukawa), and Hagio (Dai Ikeda), another male employee deals with his own relationship issues.

“Life: Untitled”, written and directed by Kana Yamada (who adapted the story from her own stage play), gives us a glimpse into the lives of women employed as escorts, or “Delivery Health” workers alongside the mostly male staff. The film largely consists of conversations between the main cast, complaining about customers or their work, or arguing with each other. The actual work they do is only mentioned, which allows us to explore the psychological and emotional toll their work takes on them. There is no plot to speak of, but certain thematic ideas connect the characters. Again their backstories largely go unmentioned, and there are many things in the film that are there to be guessed or inferred from contextual or behavioural clues. The incredible ensemble cast do a great job at building believability in their characters and interactions, feeding of each other’s energy. Given the number of characters, their screen time is sometimes limited, and some characters have only small roles, but their performances and script make their interactions the highlight of the film, especially the meaningful conversations between Kano and Shiho, or Mahiru and her sister, played by Serena Motola. Sairi Ito gives a nuanced performance, both emotional and comedic in her role as a young woman trapped working at an escort agency without the benefit of making the knd of money the others are earning. Yuri Tsunematsu also provides a strong focal point in the film, her apparent sublimation of her own will to the job occasionally cracking to show a woman whose anger against society drives her on in spite of how she is perceived by others.

While the tone is mostly downbeat, with characters having little hope of their situations improving, and coming to realise that they are considered as the lowest of the low in society, there are lighter moments, with character based humour occasionally pricking through the depressing atmosphere. These include the arrival of a new older woman to the agency, who seems completely ill-suited to the job and showing the more ridiculous side of this work. Yamada’s direction brings us into the story, creating a lived-in feel to the “Crazy Bunny” office space, and moving along with the characters without distracting from the action. The roots of the theatre play are still on display here, with the characters in largely single environments and the focus on script and performance rather than action.

The film’s lack of a plot and downbeat outlook on life might be offputting for some, but there are things to enjoy here. The performances from the whole cast are fantastic, drawing on each other in certain scenes to create some powerful moments of drama and tension. The depiction of sex work, although largely referenced rather than shown, is not one of empowerment but reduction of these women to a single function, and reducing human relationships to a transactional process devoid of emotion. Two major themes run through the film. The first is one of the inability to form human connections in a world based on transactional, largely monetary, relationships. The women at the agency are there to be hired out by men for various sexual favours. Shiho discusses how she broke up a family; the women’s sense of value and their own worth is distorted by their job; and Hagio and Ryota also both struggle to find love, burdened with the gap between expectation and reality. As with much of the film the themes are suggested rather than explicit. We can see how the commodification of sex has led to a warped sense of values amongst the characters, who cannot distinguish genuine emotion from transactional value. There is also an existential thread running through the film, with characters wondering what they are doing with their lives and whether human society is more than the lust and avarice that drives individuals.

Eternally Younger than those Idiots (2020) by Ryohei Yoshino

Secrets and traumatic memories lurk beneath the surface of this university drama. Student Horigai (Yui Sakuma) is due to submit her thesis, gathering questionnaire responses on childhood experiences and how this affects people’s dreams for the future. When her friend asks her to take notes in a philosophy class, Horigai meets Inogi (Nao), a student with her own troubled past. Horigai and Inogi become firm friends, offering mutual support as they deal with various issues. Horigai’s dream is to work in child protective services, a long term goal since she saw a kidnapping case on the news many years before. In this world where everyone is struggling with personal problems or emotional stress, including her colleague Yasuda (Yo Aoi) and Homine whom she has a crush on, Horigai wonders if she has what it takes to help others, or even herself.

Based on a novel by Kikuko Tsumura and directed by Ryohei Yoshino, “Eternally Younger than those Idiots” is a film that creeps up on you. The opening sequence of students enjoying a drinking party, mocking Horigai’s choice of career and her virginity, seems perfectly innocent, drawing you into a youthful, playful atmosphere where people seem to be enjoying life albeit in that aimless way typical of young adults who are not quite sure how their career will pan out. But little by little we discover the secrets, anxieties, and traumas, which lie beneath the surface of each of the characters. Sexual problems, rape, suicide, child neglect, divorce, all of these things are introduced in a naturalistic way, simply elements that make up people’s characters. The film avoids exploiting these issues, but instead focusses on the way they have shaped those affected. Yui Sakuma and Nao give incredible performances as Horigai and Inogi, both with a great sense of fun and humour, but hiding darker secrets. Their excellent chemistry makes the scenes with both of them very satisfying and their friendship believable. The film relies on character and script with most of the traumatic incidents only mentioned by characters. Yoshino’s direction keeps things interesting and the sets often evoke a great sense of atmosphere, using the environs such as spacious lecture halls, the posters of models on Horigai’s walls, or the cluttered space of Inogi’s apartment to tell us more about these people and their lives. moves the story along, using its environments, spacious lecture halls, or the confusion of Horigai’s apartment to highlight particular moods. The camera is also used to separate characters, or frame them in particular ways that emphasises their relationships. The film will often have character speaking over the phone, a great visual way to show the emotional distance between them.

“Eternally Younger than those Idiots” manages to balance upsetting themes with charming characters and beautiful cinematography. In eschewing explicit depictions of the darker elements it creates a powerful emotional resonance as we see the characters struggling with their own sense of impotence or victimhood. The film explores how powerless people are to change situations, especially past tragedies, and how they affect psychological development. It offers no easy answers, rather allowing us to experience this sense of helplessnes along with the characters. There are brighter moments in the film, with Horigai and Inogi’s relationship offering many entertaining moments in the depiction of a firm friendship born of shared experience. The film also suggests that people do have control over what they do, with Horigai’s determination to follow a path of child protection, and Homine’s helping of a neglected child, showing that there is light in a world that is full of evils. It is not possible to alleviate all the problems of the world, but you should try to make things better where you can.

Typhoon Club (1985) by Shinji Somai

A group of teenagers are trapped at their rural school during a typhoon in this adolescent drama. Girlfriends Yasuko and Yumi; their friends Midori and Michiko (Yuka Onishi), a serious student who has a soft spot for classmate Mikami (Yuichi Mikami); and Mikami’s friends Ken (Shigeru Benibayashi) and Akira (Yoshiyuki Matsunaga) all come-of-age in one way or another through their experiences. We also follow Rie (Yuki Kudo) who flees to the city to escape the storm and is approached by an older student named Kobayashi (Toshinori Omi). Alongside the children, the film also focusses on their long-suffering teacher Umemiya (Tomokazu Miura) who has his own relationship troubles.

“Typhoon Club”, written by Yuji Kato and directed by Shinji Somai, is an acutely observed teen drama, capturing the uncertainty and energy of the high-schoolers, while also addressing serious themes affecting them. The voyeuristic framing, as we watch conversations through windows or open doorways, draws us into their inner world, and the script captures the playful air of teenage friends, or their meandering conversations. The pop and reggae score by Shigeaki Saegusa also helps emphasise a sense of youthful joie de vivre. The young cast all give believable performances and work well together. You can feel the tension between the boys and girls, and the affection between the friends. Without a single plot, the film’s strength is in its characters and letting them evolve through the situation they find themselves in. Nothing feels forced in the script and their relationships are all naturalistic. Lesbian romances, sexual harrasment, and bullying, all feature, but the film always feels genuine and never exploitative.

When the storm arrives we are treated to incredible effects of howling wind and lashing rain that capture the awesome power of such events and the somewhat surreal atmosphere accompanying them, that sense that the world is in complete turmoil. The majority of the film is taken up in simple conversations between the chracters, but they are always entertaining to watch. The film also features some interesting surreal elements, such as the two people playing the ocarina in the early morning city streets following the storm. Introduced and left without much commentary it subtly pushes the sense that the storm has a semi-mythical significance, beyond simple meteorlogical phenomenon. That it is some sort of rite of passage for the children, an awesome natural force that they must overcome to realise their potential.

“Typhoon Club” is an exploration of what it is like to be on the cusp of adulthood, with the students’ sexual awakening coming alongside the overwhelming realisation that childhood is ending and they are staring down the barrel of a long life and eventual death. This theme of mortality is raised in the shape of Yasuko who discusses her grandmother’s illness. The idea of taking on responsibilities is expressed through Umemiya, the teacher, who still seems to behave like a child, struggling to accept that he must now grow up. The storm comes to represent this hormonal cyclone, both isolating the characters, particularly in the case of Rie; being a dangerous, unpredictable and uncontrollable force; and yet also something liberating. When the children run outside in their underwear, there is a sense that they are completely free. They have given themselves over completely to the whims of fate and the elements that surround them rather than sheltering from them. In the film’s most clear reference to a philosophy, the characters discuss the possibility of people transcending their own species through death. Through the storm they appear to reach this transcendence, the suspension of the natural order allowing them to shrug off their inhibitions and simply exist, free of terrestrial concerns. Late in the film there is a suicide involving one of the characters that comes slightly out of the blue, although it does tie in to these themes of mortality and transcendence. The film also features a scene of attempted rape, or sexual assault, which may also be hard to swallow. “Typhoon Club” gives us an unvarnished depiction of puberty, drawing in elements that often function both literally and allegorically, with the external storm coming to symbolise the characters fears and struggles. An entertaining and thought-provoking film on what it means to grow up.