Our 30 Minute Sessions (2020) by Kentaro Hagiwara

A recently deceased young man is given a second chance to make things right with the band and girlfriend he left behind. In a montage sequence we see Aki (Arata) meeting his girlfriend Kana (Sayu Kubota) on the way to a music festival; he starts a band with his friends and Kana; they have their fallings out; and Aki is later killed in a car accident. Later, Sota (Takumi Kitamura) a socially awkward job-hunting graduate finds a tape player Aki had dropped. When he hits play, Aki’s spirit is magically transferred to his body, while Sota is left to watch himself in an outer-body experience. The two soon discover that the tape player offers Aki the chance to live again for 30-minutes at a time inside Sota’s body. When he is not inhabiting him, Aki appears as a ghost who only Sota can see or hear. Sato realises the outgoing and jovial Aki can help him with his as-yet unsuccessful job interviews; while Aki wants the chance to get his band back together and make Kana happy again.

“Our 30 Minute Sessions”, directed by Kentaro Hagiwara from a script by Satomi Oshima, treads some familiar ground for the young adult romantic comedy drama. The premise of a ghost returning in an attempt to reunite with his lost love is given a fresh take with the use of the tape player and its various limitations. Singer Arata is great as the exuberant and eternally hopeful Aki, giving off an energy that makes us root for him, meanwhile Takumi Kitamura’s Sato is the perfect foil, a young man struggling to come out of his shell and discover his potential. Sayu Kubota as Kana is charming and the band all have good chemistry in their interactions.

Music plays a central part in the film and much of the cinematography is reminiscent of music videos; stylish shots and metaphor heavy montages. At one point it even tips into a musical number that does not seem out of place with the rest of the film. Montages are used in the film not as a shortcut but in a genuinely impactful way as they emphasise the themes of time passing and the partial and imperfect form of memories. The film wastes no time either in this approach, with the opening sequence in particular being a perfect example of efficient storytelling without long establishing or expository scenes. The story has few unexpected twists as once the premise is established there are certain beats that are bound to be hit; but with excellent performances and clever interweaving of narrative and theme it is impactful when it wants to be. As with any film involving magical elements, many things are left unexplained, however the film is well-paced and heartfelt enough that the plotholes and narrative trickery rarely detract from the story.

“Our 30 Minute Sessions” deals with the theme of death by instead focussing on the memories that the deceased leave behind. Aki explains to Sota that the tape recorder he uses to record song ideas has been taped over numerous times, largely erasing what has gone before. This is something that Sota, who is overly concerned about every detail of his life and how he is perceived, finds hard to comprehend. Aki’s philosophy is that life is for living; there is no point dwelling on past memories, but instead we need to be constantly moving forward and creating new ones. This is not to say that he should be forgotten, but rather that the best way to honour him is to continue moving forward with that same positivity and lust for life. When Sota first meets them, Aki’s bandmates and Kana have largely shut away their memories of Aki. They do not wish to continue with the band, or play the old songs. Sota’s appearance, quite literally embodying Aki’s spirit, gives them licence to begin enjoying life again, and truly respecting his wishes to be happy. An entertaining drama that breathes new life into a familiar format, with great music and a superb cast.

Swing Girls (2004)

A remedial maths class tries to get out of studying over the summer vacation by offering to take lunch to the brass band (who are playing at a school baseball game). The girls manage to hospitalise the entire band (with the lunch) and are then forced to replace them. When the band recovers, some of the girls still want to play and decide to start a rival jazz group. The plot is very formulaic, with a few sub-plots and side-stories to fill out the running time. Basically, the hopeless girls must come together to beat the odds and take on the other bands in a competition at the end of the movie.

While the story is very simple and there are few surprises, there are some good jokes spread throughout and genuinely amusing situations. The main problem I had with the movie was with the writing, as some of the dialogue seemed forced and the girls’ speech sounds unnatural. The second problem is that the leads are not presented sympathetically from the beginning and you have to do a lot of work to figure out why you should be rooting for them. A few of the jokes do fall flat for these reasons, and others are so predictable that they provoke little laughter. That said there are a lot of positives; the direction is good and the girls jazz performances are fantastic.

The film works as a feel-good comedy, albeit overly similar to other films in the genre, such as “Waterboys” (by the same director) or “Oppai Volleyball”. A celebration of hard-work and enthusiasm, and the power of music to inspire a lazy, ill-disciplined generation. Probably one of the better examples of the genre, but it occasionally feels almost too cynically put together, lacking a real emotional core.


Linda, Linda, Linda (2005) by Nobuhiro Yamashita

Three friends, Kyoko (Aki Maeda), Kei (Yuu Kashii) and Nozomi (Shiori Sekine), decide, after problems with other members leaving, to keep their band together and perform at the closing concert of their high school cultural festival. Wanting a clean break from the songs they have performed before, they choose to cover “The Blue Hearts”, a popular punk band of the late eighties/ early nineties. The only problem is that they don’t have a lead singer. They recruit a Korean exchange student, Son (Bae Doona), who they hope will be able to learn Japanese in time for their performance. The film focuses on the girls’ friendship with each other, as well as their relationships with friends and family.

The plot of this film will be familiar from other high-school dramas: a group of friends practice for a final competition, or performance. This film almost seems to know that this plot is a cliché, and it never attempts to draw any drama from suggesting that they might not succeed, or that there are any problems to overcome (other than learning the songs). Instead the plot is simply there to provoke personal development in the girls. Aided by great direction, which brings this above many similar movies in the genre, it seems as though we are looking in on their lives. The romantic, if they could be called that, subplots, go nowhere, with one girl turning down her admirer, and another unable to confess her affection for a classmate. There are several scenes involving the girls’ families, or friends, which have no significance to the plot, or don’t reach any sort of resolution. Instead, the film seems to be giving us a snapshot of their lives. This realist approach makes for an interesting film, rather than being an overly dramatised portrayal of high school life. The four lead actresses do a fantastic job, playing their different roles well, and have good chemistry together. Most of the humour derives from Bae Doona’s Son, who struggles with Japanese and Japanese culture, leading to many scenes of confusion (such as when she attempts to book out a Karaoke booth to practice singing, only to be told that you need to order a drink to be allowed to sing).

The film does a fantastic job of showing a realistic group of friends, with a lot of humour and great direction. The peculiar strength of the film is in its subtlety. While many films of this type would be trying hard to make you sympathise with the characters, using either an unexpected tragedy, or some serious issue, this film seems entirely unaware of the audience’s presence, offering only a candid look at the protagonists’ lives. Rather than making you feel distant, this instead makes you want to learn more about these characters, and cheer for them. The film leaves many things unsaid, again unusual in this genre, which usually ties up every subplot neatly. I would recommend this film to anyone who is a fan of this type of high-school film, as it does attempt to do things in a different way, has a lot of humour, and a great soundtrack ending with two fantastic renditions of Blue Hearts classics.