Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Against this troubling backdrop, the killer seems less a disruptive influence and more an expression of widespread despair." | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival

Ever since her mum died, teenager Kaede (Aoi Itô) has been responsible for looking after herself. her home and her dad, Satoshi (Jirô Satô). In the opening scene, we see her apologising as she picks him up from a store where he has been accused of shoplifting, earnestly explaining that he’s not quite right in the head. It’s tough to have to do this all the time, and she knows they’re short of money. She’s not impressed by his claim that he has spotted a notorious serial killer in the vicinity and is going to catch him to get a reward. When he goes missing, however, she finds herself with a whole new crisis to contend with.

The killer (Hiroya Shimizu) is introduced so early here that is makes no sense to try to preserve a sense of mystery about him. That’s not where this film’s concerns lie. Whilst the determined schoolgirl wastes no time in tracking him down, showing little thought for her own safety as she pursues and tries to stop him, she will find it a lot more difficult to get to the truth behind her father’s disappearance and the connection between the two. This is filled in for the audience in a series of flashbacks which flesh out a storyline that later runs in parallel with Kaede’s. It’s a complicated structure which doesn’t always work, but it helps director Shinzô Katayama to get at what she’s really interested in, which is the relationship between Satoshi and his family members, and how different kinds of people navigate the responsibilities associated with social interdependence.

Key to this is the fate of Kaede’s mother, Kimiko, who suffered from ALS (which US readers will know as Lou Gehrig’s disease) and at one point asked Satoshi to end her life. Disabled people in this position are a popular subject in cinema and films usually come down hard on one ‘side’ or another, often, in the process, losing sight of the humanity of those concerned. Katayama refuses to play this game and instead creates a complicated narrative featuring several disabled characters with very different personalities and perspectives. He’s alert to the fact that people may want different things at different times, and that wishing to die in one set of carefully controlled circumstances may not extend to wishing to die in a very different context. Although this is not always at the centre of the narrative, it contributes significantly to its substance, and represents one of the most intelligent cinematic approaches to this topic to date – one of the first which really makes the disabled characters in question feel as human as everyone else.

Other types of social disadvantage are visible throughout the film, and contribute to a landscape in which it’s very easy to see how people might lose their moral bearings. Kaede is clearly considered an outcast at school, and when a boy flirts with her, her first instinct is that she’s being set up to be the butt of a joke. Whilst his interest turns out to be real, he’s not above exploiting her desperate situation for his own ends. The intensity of her distress quickly alienates a teacher who tries to help her, and the prospects for orphans don’t look good. Nobody seems to be able to offer her any real empathy.

Against this troubling backdrop, the killer seems less a disruptive influence and more an expression of widespread despair. It is Kaede who goes against the grain, resisting rules and creating disorder wherever she goes, her single-mindedness confounding those around her. It is she who, ultimately, seems less a part of the world. Despite its limitations as a thriller, Katayama’s film is full of interesting ideas and its own willingness to rewrite rules bodes well for his future career.

Reviewed on: 05 Nov 2022
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Following the death of his wife, Santoshi has sunk into depression and debt, much to the consternation of his daughter, high school student Kaede. To ease their debt, Santoshi tells Kaede he will track down a serial killer and collect the reward, but Santoshi disappears and Kaede must find out what happened to him.

Director: Shinzô Katayama

Writer: Kazuhisa Kotera, Ro Takada

Starring: Jirô Satô, Aoi Itô, Hiroya Shimizu, Misato Morita, Shotaro Ishii

Year: 2021

Runtime: 124 minutes

Country: Japan

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