Reviewed by: Paul Griffiths

Oku Shutaro’s new USB has a dark heart that inexorably infects your viewing right through to its end. It makes for a resoundingly bleak experience, which is very much the writer-director’s point. If it can celebrate one thing, it’s how effectively he drives home his final, grim message.

We follow Yuichiro (Watanabe Kazushi), a 26 year old loafer living at home with his mother while harbouring filmmaker ambitions. Even so, he's signed up to medical school, to follow in the footsteps of his recently passed father, and his mum's helping him out financially. It's a staid start that generates a degree of sympathy for our young, subdued protagonist.

Copy picture

All of this soon mutates into a very different understanding as Yuichiro pads around his deadened, threatening suburban landscape. When his college fees and a stint at drug-dealing fail to pay off loan sharks, he reluctantly signs up for medical experiments. The State-sponsored trials, testing the effects of radiation on the body, are lucrative but dangerous. All the while a nearby power plant has suffered a major radiation leak and is nudging a no-go contamination zone into the community.

The beleaguered Yuichiro metes out as much mistreatment as he receives along his forlorn spiral. He’s unremittingly abusive to his would-be girlfriend, barely acknowledging her even during cold, joyless sex. Shutaro is challenging us to stay with this quietly brutish character, so that our original understanding of a grieving son can give way to what he really represents, a grieving generation.

Yuichiro and his assorted company either drift or thrash around with neither a moral compass nor a sense of grounded identity to orientate them. This is a post-The Bomb modern generation living a murky present, disenfranchised of both a past and a convincing future to feel valued within. A person’s vital statistics are reduced to an asset, downloaded to a USB stick, and then pulsed with particles to mutate once again to who knows where.

Shutaro builds his stark sensibility with gradually increasing intensity, without anything as crass as showing the visible results of radiation. The sound design is fantastic, texturing the film with klaxon injections and the slow absorption of sonorous vibrations. Much hangs on Watanabe Kazushi’s dispirited performance, which bristles with just right amount of barely seen emotion.

Other characters are far sketchier in comparison, though. The criminal elements are almost cartoonish and hugely distracting. Everyone plays a part in defining Shutaro’s still powerful vision, admittedly experienced through Yuichiro, yet they seem pasted in from another film. The imbalance is always noticeable, never overcome, and it significantly unsettles USB, not in the manner Shutaro surely intended. It’s unfortunate as he could have made an even more forceful and gaunt commentary of a toxic cultural malaise.

Reviewed on: 13 Oct 2010
Share this with others on...
A young man agrees to participate in a dangerous experiment in order to pay off his debts.
Amazon link

Director: Shutaro Oku

Writer: Shutaro Oku

Starring: Kazushi Watanabe, Kaori Momoi, Kazunobu Mineta

Year: 2010

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: Japan


Raindance 2010

Search database:

If you like this, try:

After The Apocalypse