100 Yen Love

***1/2

Reviewed by: Luke Shaw

100 Yen Love
"Shin Adachi’s script seeks to get past the gloss and into the reality of Japan’s “lost generation”."

Every country has a distorted cinematic image, and modern Japan is no exception. Frequently thought of as successful, inventive and endlessly mobile, real life in Japan is not as gleaming and and slick as neon-lit Tokyo set movies will have you believe. Shin Adachi’s script seeks to get past the gloss and into the reality of Japan’s “lost generation” forced out of the working ranks by rising unemployment, disillusioned by the worthlessness of their degrees and skillsets. Ichiko, a 32 year old woman who quit and never returned, decides to leave home when constant clashes with her recently divorced sister reach a tipping point. Without any skills, she lands a nightshift at a 100 Yen Convenience Store, and finds a boxy apartment.

The character of Ichiko is a familiar slacker, with a comedic level of apathy to everything from love to authority. She fits the template of “hikikomori”, someone withdrawn and socially awkward, and it's easy to sympathise with someone who can perceive no future beyond the day to day drudge that makes up her life. She finds a certain solace in watching, playing the voyeur to a local boxer (Arai Hirofumi) known as “banana man” by her co-workers due to his purchasing habits, and a muted romance soon blossoms between them. It’s not clear if this is her own choice, as the film rarely gives us an insight into Ichiko’s mind. Her withdrawal allows other forces to buffet her around, as she remains apathetic. Even a particularly traumatic rape scene barely seems to have any lasting impact on her, instead seeming like yet another trauma that life has thrown her way.

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Failure is an important theme here, and it’s also the catalyst for the second half of the film. On the night of her assault, she also goes to watch a her boxer fight, and he loses. It is the respect and intimacy of the winner towards the loser that provides some hope for Ichiko, and sets her on the path to becoming a boxer herself. Sakura Ando captures the gradual transformation of floppy weakling into confident amatuer athelete with a great attention to detail, and her training moves and fancy footwork are impressively kinetic.

It remains a very downbeat film however bombastic its training montages get. Masaharu Take never stops framing the film in static shots that encapsulate Ichiko’s life. She may get more energetic, but she isn’t able to alter the world, and the only growth she has is personal. Her journey may end with what many consider a pyrrhic victory, but Adachi understands that not everybody needs to take a title belt to feel successful, and maybe just the respect of a fellow boxer and the catharsis of finally feeling something other than white noise is enough.

Reviewed on: 21 Jun 2015
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A young woman morphs from slacker to boxer.

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