Director: Yoshida Daihachi
Studio: NTV, Showgate
Adaptation from: Asai Ryo’s 2010 novel of the same title
Screenplay: Kiyasu Kohei, Yoshida Daihachi
Cinematography: Kondo Ryoto
Soundscore: Kondo Tatsuro
Cast: Kamiki Ryunosuke, Hashimoto Ai, Higashide Masahiro, Ohgo Suzuka, Shimiza Kurumi, Yamamoto Kizuki, Matsuoka Mayu, Ochiai Motoki, Maeno Tomoya, Kurihara Goro & others
Runtime: 103 min
Film’s official website: http://www.kirishima-movie.com/index.html
Kirishima, the titular hero of the Japan Academy’s Best Picture of the Year, is rather like Godot: although everyone is waiting for him to appear, he never actually shows up. Different from Godot, however, we can be fairly certain that the character – a teenage boy and star athlete at his school – does exist, it’s just that he seems to have literally vanished off the face of the earth after suddenly quitting the volleyball team he previously captained. His resignation is, for a long time, pretty much the most eventful thing that happens in this tale, but takes place not just off-screen but also before the narrative begins, the film itself concerning itself only with the aftermath of the event.
If you haven’t realised it by now, let me tell you: Kirishima, Bukatsu Yamerutteyo (literally Kirishima, Quit the Club) isn’t your usual sort of film and it certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, even with a Most Popular Film trophy among the multiple awards it scored. Based on an omnibus novel consisting of various connected stories, the director adapts this particular format for the cinema by presenting overlapping fragments of the same – or nearly the same – scenes from different points of view, quasi-limited to a character or two. It is an observational sort of style, reinforced by the camera itself, which is sometimes hand-held and follows individuals as they move about the school, between class- and clubrooms, the sports hall, toilets and various outdoor spaces. The use of close-up or medium distance shots frame and thus restrict what viewers can see, providing a glimpse of each moment only, filtered through one character’s perspective.
We begin on a Friday, trailing behind a girl in a red P.E. jacket, Miyabe Mika (Shimizu Kurumi) by name. As Mika enters the teachers’ room, the camera shifts to two of her classmates, Maeda Ryoya (Kamiki Ryunosuke) and Takefumi (Maeno Tomoya), conversing with their film club supervisor, while briefly panning back to a now crying Mika slumped over a desk. The scene soon cuts to the sports hall where the still shell-shocked volleyball team has gathered to reshuffle positions, Koizumi Fusuuke (Taiga) being put in Kirishima’s place. Outside, Risa (Yamamoto Mizuki), Kirishima’s girlfriend and sort of queen bee among the girls, is waiting. There are more characters still, including Hagishihara Kasumi (Hashimoto Ai), Sawashima Aya (Ohgo Suzuka), Kikuchi Hiroki (Higashide Masahiro), Sana (Matsuoka Mayu) and Ryouta (Ochiai Motoki).
The incessant meandering of the camera may leave you at a loss initially, particularly if you are looking for a lead character or two to provide a focal point, which, except for the absent Kirishima, the story of course does not have. What does crystallise however is the social anatomy of high school life, where many individuals are connected in a tangled web of relations – friendships (both real and not-so-real), romantic relationships (some very much on public display and others completely under cover), secret crushes and so forth. Depending on the given perspective, these interconnections slowly unravel or further entwine themselves as each student responds to their classmate’s disappearance.
The reactions hint at that Kirishima had a particularly central role in this network – he seems irreplaceable on the volleyball team, had masses of friends and the most gorgeous girl at school by his side to boot. And yet as we observe all the different individuals reacting to his disappearance, cracks begin to appear. Hardly anyone in fact seems to truly care about what has happened. Some perceive Kirishima’s vanishing act and that they cannot get hold of him even by phone as an individual slight, others appear to feign their reaction, demonstrating shock because everyone is supposed to do so yet stirring the gossip mill beneath the surface. But there is one more group still: those students that are essentially unaffected by Kirishima’s absence, or would be were it not for the larger repercussions of the incident on the school’s social structure. Specifically, it is the film club members, led by the aforementioned Maeda Ryoya, who are more occupied with other things as they are in the midst of making a zombie movie. Unlike the self-concerned friends and pretenders however, Ryoya and his pals do not so much dislike Kirishima but have simply never much interacted directly with him as, despite being classmates, they occupy a different social sphere.
And that is where the real story of Kirishima, Bukatsu Yamerutteyo lies: not in the Kirishima incident itself but the true nature of individuals that reactions to the event brings to light, revealing a sharp division in the student body (and, by extension, society at large), where some – the top athlete, the über-cool school beauty that everyone has a crush on – are in an elite group and others – the geeks, the plain Janes – in a lower, more inferior one. The revelations made are subtle as second-class students are not openly bullied, but rather we observe one-off whispered snide remarks (“Did he hear us?”), half-suppressed giggles, occasional, stolen glances, eye darts of jealousy and one demonstratively passionate kiss.
As the situation begins to fester it erodes not only the outward tolerance of the bullying targets that cope by half-ignoring, half-bouncing poisonous comments off themselves (“When I’m a director, I won’t use them,” Takefumi mutters out of earshot of the girls mocking him and Ryoya) but also of some of those in the elect circle – Kasumi, Hiroki, and Mika – who yearn to be less conformist than they care to admit even to themselves. With the filmmakers in spe being on an increasing clash course with their classmates, the sensitive and usually courteous Ryoya is pushed towards a breaking point, while particularly Kasumi and Hiroki are forced to re-evaluate their loyalties and themselves – all this coming head to head in the film’s climax. The zombie project, much like in「キツツキと雨」(Kitsutsuki to Ame/The Woodsman and the Rain, 2011), hereby serves as a marvellous vehicle of absurdity, constituting a twisted reflection of the students’ school experience and, as such, a social commentary.
Although the plot of Kirishima, Bukatsu Yamerutteyo is minimal, offering no more than snippets of high school life over the course of three or four short days, it shows this reality in its full and, at times, rather hideous glory. Characters are numerous and have limited screen time individually, yet feel rounded and realistic, all recognisable, in one form or another, from our own teenage days. As an ensemble piece Kirishima, Bukatsu Yamerutteyo also gives a surprising number of its large cast the chance to shine. Indeed, one of the greatest delights of the film is to watch the young performers, most between 15 and 19 years of age when the drama was made, and spot the talents of those that will shape and carry Japanese cinema in the near future:
There is Hashimoto Ai (b. 1996), whose name may be the most familiar one already, despite the fact that she only made her first film in 2010. That film,「告白」(Kokuhaku/Confessions), however was the small-budget ‘it’-film of its year, winning the Japan Academy’s Best Picture Award as well as a slew of other Japanese and international prizes. I myself first took notice of the seemingly always pitch-perfect Hashimoto in「管制塔」 (Kanseitou/Control Tower, 2011), which is only one of many projects she has done since her debut. Whether in Kirishima, Kanseitou or the several horror films she has to her name, directors seem to be favour her for darker and more mysterious characters. It’s a role that certainly suits her, although I do hope Hashimoto will get a chance to branch out into other genres – comedy, perhaps romance when she is a little older – so that we may enjoy her full range of acting abilities.
Kamiki Ryunosuke (b. 1993), meanwhile, has been in the acting business significantly longer, his film credits going as far back as 1998. His start came as a voice actor and if you are a Studio Ghibli fan that watches the subtitled rather than dubbed films (like me), you will have heard him in「千と千尋の神隠し」 (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi/Spirited Away, 2001, as Boh),「ハウルの動く城」 (Hauru no Ugoku Shiro/Howl’s Moving Castle, 2004, as Marukuru),「借りぐらしのアリエッティ」 (Karigurashi no Arietti/Arrietty, 2010, as Sho), as well as in other anime studio productions such as「ピアノの森」 (Piano no Mori/The Perfect World of KAI, 2007, as Shuhei) and Hosoda Mamoru’s「サマーウォーズ」 (Samā Wōzu/Summer Wars, 2009, as Kenji). Small roles in doramas (e.g. as the younger version of a main character) soon followed, with Kamiki making his first film in 2003. His filmography is a somewhat random medley of things – as happens often with child actors – but hopefully his semi-lead status in Kirishima and his appearance in various instalments of「SPEC」(the sort of dorama that attains cult status over time) will provide him with opportunities to really stretch and prove his acting talent. (Note: You can currently watch Kamiki in the NHK dorama「小暮写眞館」/Kogure Shashinkan/Kogure Photo Studio.)
Higashide Masahiro (b. 1988), although slightly older, is the rookie in this trio, his career having only really commenced last year, when he made one TV movie 「リセット～本当のしあわせの見つけ方～」(Risetto-Honto no Shiawase no Mitsuke Kata) and had smaller roles in a few doramas (「恋愛検定」/Renai Kentei; 「結婚しない」/Kekkon Shinai/Wonderful Single Life). It is really with Kirishima that his career began to take off, Higashide receiving both the Japan Academy’s Rookie of the Year and the Mainichi Film Awards’ Newcomer prize for his performance as Hiroki. His current turn as Doumeki in the (excellent!) live-action adaptation of the popular manga/ anime「xxxHOLIC」can only raise his standing.
Whether it is Hashimoto, Kamiki, Higashide or any other member of the Kirishima cast, the wonderful performances of these emerging talents can only bode well for the future of Japanese cinema, even more so if both bold and assured directors like Yoshida are there to guide them with their films.
Overall Verdict: Narratively idiosyncratic and minimalistic plot-wise, Kirishima, Bukatsu Yamerutteyo follows no conventions to please mainstream audiences, but prefers to assuredly forge its own way by utilising a superb young cast to hold up an all-revealing mirror to everyday high school life and beyond to deliver its message – hinted at in the original title – on the social games we play instead of truly living. Time to quit the club it is.
- The film won a number of awards, including Best Film, Best Director and Sponichi Grand Prix Newcomer Award (for Higashide Masahiro) at the Mainichi Film Awards and Picture of the Year, Director of the Year, Outstanding Achievement in Film Editing and Most Popular Film at the Japan Academy Awards.
- Other reviews: Mark Schilling for the Japan Times, Filmbiz Asia, Isugoi, Capsule Computers, SBS.com.au.
- A novel-to-manga adaptation apparently also exists.
- I love the Kirishima poster with Kamiki’s steely glance and the camera determinedly pointed at the viewer. Super-simple, but very effective. The version with life captured in the lens is equally good.