Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

Clocking in at a whopping 167 minutes, director Katsuya Tomita's Saudade is a monster of a movie to sit through, a personal film made outside the studio system and based on the director's experiences in his own hometown. Add in the fact that is a gently paced observational ensemble piece set in small-town Japan, and this is clearly a film tailor made for patient arthouse crowds rather than those wanting something with more bang. But stick with this offbeat, well acted movie, and you will find there are intriguing nuggets of insight into contemporary Japan to be found.

The camera drifts over a raft of idiosyncratic characters eking out their daily lives in the rural town of Kofu, though somewhat at the centre of it all are a group of short-term contract construction workers, one of whom is young Takeru. Decent, well paid and interesting work is in short supply, and with his parents of no use, Takeru has one outlet left - as MC of the local hip-hop group, Army Village. But hip hop isn't enough to stop him spiralling into a haze of xenophobia and rage about his circumstances, which he directs towards the Brazilian immigrant community who populate the town and who run their own hip hop crews (and face similar sets of problems).

36-year-old Seiji is also on Takeru's construction crew. Instead of sharing Takeru's rage, Seiji is simply world weary and demoralised. Construction work is unlikely to ever pay well. His grasping, social-climbing beautician wife Keiko is eyeing up local business opportunities and increasingly annoying him with her vacuousness and needling. An affair with a local Thai hostess, Miyao, leads Seiji to start dreaming of escaping Japan forever and starting over.

Tomita's story languidly takes us between these two frustrated, lost Japanese males, often letting the camera just sit with them for extended unbroken sequences as they drink, smoke, bitch, argue or just wait for something to happen or change. These, and the film's long running time, will undoubtedly be trying for some viewers, but the naturalistic acting and smatterings of deadpan, black humour help keep things from jamming up too much.

It is also worth noting that this is a side of Japan not usually shown to western audiences in mainstream theatres. These are not the glittering spires of Tokyo or the ornate temples of Kyoto, nor is this a crime or martial arts extravaganza or a film about the days of the Asian tiger economies. Instead we get to spend time in a small town with the little-seen multi-ethnic patchwork of the Japanese-Brazilian workforce, and those Japanese subsisting themselves on minimum-wage blue collar work in these less certain times. The film serves as a reminder that this nation, with some of the highest living standards on earth, that often appears very homogenous to outsiders, has turbulent currents running underneath.

Reviewed on: 20 Sep 2012
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Ethnic tensions complicate working class lives in the industrial town of Kofu.

Director: Katsuya Tomita

Writer: Toranosuke Aizawa, Katsuya Tomita

Starring: Ayano, Chie KudĂ´, Chika Kumada, Shinji Miyadai, Tomohito Nakajima, Ai Ozaki, Yasushi Sumida, Tsuyoshi Takano, Tomoko Takeda

Year: 2011

Runtime: 167 minutes

Country: Japan


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