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Year: 2011
Director: Takahiro Miki
Screenplay: Takahiro Miki
Cinematography: Masataka Kato
Cast: Yamazaki Kento, Hashimoto Ai
Runtime: 67 min.
Trailer: at nipponcinema (no subtitles) or on youtube (no subtitles)

Seen at its European Premiere at the 2011 Raindance Film Festival.

In 2008 the band Galileo Galilei from Wakkanai – Japan’s northernmost city on the island of Hokkaido – won the teenage talent festival Senkou Riot. When Director Takahiro Miki heard their first original song live in concert, he decided wanted to make a film based on it – the result being 管制塔 (Kanseitō/Control Tower).

Suitably for a film inspired by a song and made by a director primarily known for music videos, Kanseitō opens with the chords of a guitar, followed by images of a wintery Hokkaido landscape. Only then are we introduced to the first character: Takeru, a fifteen-year old schoolboy. Takeru is a loner and although it is never explained why he is so withdrawn from the world around him, we get the sense that he is simply different and out of place, unable to relate to any of his classmates. He speaks to no one, avoids people by keeping headphones in his ears – headphones that are not plugged into any music player – and escapes to an empty assembly hall to eat lunch by himself. There he lies supine, staring at an empty ceiling, as the days repeat themselves. The bleakness of his adolescence is interrupted when a newly arrived transfer student, Takemoto Mizuho (Mii), finds him in the hall and flies a paper airplane across that ceiling-sky, into Takeru’s solitary world. Mii, who has changed schools and places too many times for her to remember, is equally much a loner as Takeru and ignores her classmates’ persistent questions. She however takes an interest in him. Although her attempts at conversation are initially met with silence, Takeru realises that there is something that connects them when Mii echoes words he has thought to himself: “Adults always want explanations but we don’t always have the words to express everything.” From then on, the two form a friendship, bond over music and develop timid feelings of first love.

The most significant symbol of the film is the one provides it its title: the kanseitō, the control tower, from which all of Takeru and Mii’s town can be seen. It appears only halfway through the film and features prominently in just one scene, but it is then and there that we learn the most about the two teens’ situations: Mii longs to reach not just the furthest place in Japan – Wakkanai, where the film is set – but on earth, in hope of finally escaping what she and her father have been running from, while Takeru promises to create a second landmark for her if the control tower, representative of the uncertain future, is not enough to guide her back to his town – and him.

With the majority of scenes focusing on Takeru and Mii, the film is essentially carried by its teen actors but relative newcomer Yamazaki Kento and Hashimoto Ai (from last year’s 告白/Kokuhaku/Confessions) are perfectly cast. They communicate their characters’ feelings even in silence, through glances that play a role in some scenes – at their first meeting, in the classroom, on the bus home from the control tower. It is comforting that Yamazaki is no brilliant singer. His voice is solid, but raw, expressing the pain of his heartbreak when Mii disappears. Meanwhile, Hashimoto manages to make Mii both a forthright character that will not bow to her “puerile” classmates as well as a fragile one, occasionally letting us catch a glimpse of the burden of her home life.

Takahiro Miki deserves praise for a music-centred film that is also wonderfully photographic. Shots of the snowy landscape, the growing orange glow around a silhouette emerging from a garage door in pitch-black darkness, and characters cycling past in blinding sunlight are beautiful and memorable, and make the film worth watching on that account alone.

But there is not just sound and image to Kanseitō: there is a story and it is a story well-told. Kanseitō convincingly portrays the feelings of love and loneliness of its teen characters and lets us experience the lack of control that adolescents have over their own lives. The ending too conveys that limited power, but still contains hope: the promise of a return to the control tower.

Rating: I left the cinema thinking, ‘I can’t think what to improve on’, so, a rare 10/10.

Bonus links:

  • Website of the band Galileo Galilei (in Japanese). Their debut album Parade, which includes the film’s title song Kanseitō, is available on iTunes as well as Amazon.
  • Music clip (with film scenes): Galilei Galilei’s Kanseitō

Love this image of the Galileo Galilei band members, so I just had to include it: