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Year: 2012
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Director: Shimote Daisuke
Studio: Particle Pictures
Screenplay: Shimote Daisuke
Cinematography: Haibara Takahiro
Soundscore: N/a
Cast: Kido Airi, Saito Yu, Nakaizumi Hideo, Matsumoto Wakana, NorA, Wagatsuma Miwako, Kajiwara Hikari, Saka Koichiro
Runtime: 100 min
Distribution: Particle Pictures
Film’s official website: http://cargocollective.com/hanare_banareni
Twitter: @hanarebanareni_

Trailer:

Seen at the 2013 East End Film Festival in London.

Hanarebanareni falls into that very particular category of nothing-much-happens indie films, which people generally either love or hate. The plot can certainly summed up in a single sentence: three strangers escape from their every day lives and play games by the seaside.

The trio is composed of Kuro (Kido Airi), a listless but rebellious 20-year old cashier in a bakery who dreams of making the bread she sells herself, Eito (Yu Saito), 27, a freelance photographer who gets into a fight with his live-in fiancée and Gou (Nakaizumi Hideo), 35, a playwright and stage director, whose lead actress – who also happens to be his wife – runs off in a fury when she sees him flirting with a starlet. Then serendipity lands the three in the same house (owned by Eito’s uncle) by the seaside, where they while away a few days by doing preciously little: they play air tennis, smoke in closets, visit a donkey and push rockfaces with all their might. It is a little strange, this playfulness, all whimsical and inane. It certainly does not move the narrative along and never reveals anything particularly much about the characters either. Its purpose? Probably none.

Pushing rockfaces.

Pushing rockfaces.

The professional critics however spot Jean-Luc Godard in the game, noting that the characters’ “wispy relationship evokes the central relationships” (quote) of the French filmmaker’s 1964 film Bande à part (Band of Outsiders), or see Ozu Yasujiro’s “formal rigour” (quote), plus allusions to others (Woody Allen, Edward Yang, François Truffaut, etc.). Not being so well-versed in classic cinema myself, Hanarebanreni evokes something else entirely for me: improvisational theatre – performance that happens spontaneously, with no script provided but actors reacting to each other and everything that surrounds them, from the physical environment to any people around. While nothing of Shimote Daisuke’s biography suggests any direct involvement in the world of stage acting, his film certainly operates on this level as the characters play and respond to the stimuli around them organically, rather than following pre-determined lines. The director explains that “[t]he shooting concept was to keep the dialogue to a minimum, with diegetic music only from the live performances and the radio. Each scene was shot in one long take, with no cuts” (from the Press Kit), resulting in a film where the moment of experience matters and not so much the overall story.

It is an approach that is meta, the film itself playing with its medium and narrative genres, refusing to fit neatly into any well-defined categories and increasingly doing what it wants. If Kuro’s initial moments of mischievousness – she sneaks out of the bakery to smoke, hiding from her boss, later steals money from a busking mini-orchestra, resulting in a comic chase – seem like the starting point of a story, they simply become part of many instances of idiosyncratic diversion rather than progressing toward a climax. The days by the sea are a time-out, with the characters’ normal lives and the plot itself almost entirely at a standstill. Although we are left with the impression that nothing of significance happens and Kuro, Eito and Gou surely would respond to anyone inquiring about their days away that they were doing ‘nothing in particular’, as their everyday reality resumes back in the city, there is a slight shift in their lives for all of them – a sense that plans and dreams may eventually come true.

On the sea sofa.

On the sea sofa.

In its English version, the title of Shimote’s film, has been butchered to Kuro, rather to the loss of viewers. While English speakers would not be likely to recognise the allusion contained in the original (Hanarebanareni was the Japanese title of Godard’s Bande à part), Kuro has none of the tongue-twistery playfulness of Hanarebanareni that even a non-Japanese viewer can sense without the slightest grasp of the word’s meaning (‘separate pieces’) or significance in terms of its cinematic reference. With the role that the sense of play has in this virtually plotless film, the choice is unfortunate, indeed, a rather misleading mistranslation that shifts the attention to one of the characters for no good reason. Although the girl leads the way with her impish antics, introducing the fun and games to Eito – a passive observer – and Gou – a frustrated writer who has little control over anything or anyone – , Hanarebanareni is an ensemble piece, featuring a trio of distinct characters, each with their own, but essentially equal part.

Visually there is something quite striking about Hanarebanareni. Images feel photographic and, yet again, theatrical: many frames are memorable snapshots that stand on their own, and frequently also carry the element of performance in them through what seems like props on a stage. The Kuro-Eito-Gou trio is seated on misplaced sofa in the sea, they roam around, dressed like in costumes: identical sunglasses, a distinctive hat and, in particular, bright red clothing (Kuro’s skirt, Gou’s jacket in one scene, his pants in another, his shirt in a third, a boy’s T-shirt), the last of which contrasting with the white and black clothes worn otherwise and creating visual connectors between scenes.

Yet more games.

Blindfolded fruit piñata games.

Hanarebanareni is the kind of film that is wonderfully suited to a film festival like London East End, which is more avant-garde than London’s usual to-go-to indie event Raindance, stretching thus just a little bit further into the outlier territory for cinematic gems. As a production that is quirky, features outlandish characters and has just about no plot to speak of, it is unlikely to be to everyone’s tastes – one person I saw the film with loved it, the other thought it was utterly pointless. It will however delight anyone with an affinity for (post)modern, convention-eschewing creations, whether in film (「生きてるものはいないのか」[Ikiteru Mono Wa Inai No Ka/Isnt Anyone Alive?]), on the stage (Samuel Beckett, Luigi Pirandello, etc.) or elsewhere.

Footnote:

1 The director comments in the Press kit that he gave the characters names that relate to numbers: Gou is variation on Go (Japanese for 5), Kuro rearranges the syllables of Roku (Japanese for 6), Nana – the name of Eito’s fiancée – means 7, while Eito plays with the English word for 8.

Rating: 8/10

Overall Verdict: Shimote Daisuke’s Hanarebanareni is a delightful and daring debut that pays homage to classic film directors from Godard to Ozu, but comes with a whole lot of whimsy and a nothing-really-happens plot that won’t be to everyone’s tastes. In my book however it’s an indie gem.

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