Language: Japanese, Japanese sign language
Director: Hirano Asami
Soundscore: Mogi Yusuke
Cast: Kawagoishi Sunpei, Kita Kana, Matsunaga Takyua, Kyutaro, Ogawa Gen, Kaneko Yuji, Kondo Maya
Runtime: 74 min
Film’s official website: N/a
Special thanks to Raindance, which provided me with a preview screener of this film. Shindo will be showing at the 21st Raindance Film Festival on October 4.
When Nao closes her eyes, the world is dark and silent, as if being dead. When she opens them, it’s not so different as, being deaf, there is still no sound. There is, however, Haruki, a teenage boy, who has lived in the same care home as Nao for more than a decade. While the other children of the home have come and gone over the years, Nao and Haruki have remained in the same place and formed an unusually close bond, which is touchingly apparent from the opening scene of the film. They are, Haruki says, “family”, as he lays out his plans for the future. He works part time filling shelves in a small mart, saving every yen for him and Nao to live together after they graduate. At the home Haruki looks after the younger children and even listens to the worries of the man in charge of fostering them all. In school he is a friendless loner, with headphones in his ears during break time. It is such an un-teenagelike life that even his guardian tells him to go out and live a little – which he never does.
Then, one day, Haruki is approached by Aki, a rather ebullient classmate of his with big hair, who decides that Haruki should be a member of his rock band as he is left-handed – “like Kurt Cobain”. When, unsurprisingly, Haruki refuses, Aki however does not back down, engaging in some sort of soft drink game (every bottle must be returned three-fold) and generally just jabbering away incessantly and ignoring Haruki’s objections. Eventually Haruki gives in, thanks to encouragement from Nao. He finds that he actually enjoys learning how to play the guitar and soon ends up with bloody finger tips from constant practicing. He also makes, probably for the first time ever, friends outside the home. Nao, meanwhile, is unable to take part in this world of sound and increasingly begins to feel left out and even jealous when one of Haruki’s female classmates shows interest in him.
Shindo is primarily Haruki’s film. While Nao may be imprisoned in a world of silence, we realise that Haruki is just as shut in, living in a tiny, sheltered world of his own, behind emotion-blocking walls constructed ever since having been abandoned by his parents. On the surface his actions speak of responsibility and maturity beyond his teenage years and his intentions are certainly well meant but come with a self-sacrifice that hinders Haruki in showing his actual feelings to the person that matters the most to him. Although he makes promises to Nao about the jobs he works and the money he saves, it is not the kind of reassurance that the girl – who is younger, more insecure and confused – needs the most. His full acceptance and love are communicated too silently and indirectly for her, even if they are touching for the viewer to observe. Haruki, for example, takes Nao along with him wherever he goes, always putting her first and never showing even the tiniest sign of teenage-typical embarrassment – much in contrast, as revealed in a subtly parallel scene, to Nao’s reappeared mother, who pushes her daughter’s signing hand down to hide the girl’s deafness from the public.
Other characters feature mostly on the sidelines and, given the relatively short length of Shindo, could certainly have been developed more. While Nao’s sense of isolation and depression does become increasingly apparent over the course of the film, we get relatively little insight into her otherwise. Then there is the middle-aged man that is Haruki and Nao’s caretaker. It is unclear whether he is the only adult at the home, but he is portrayed as non-judgmental and kind, and is clearly cheering for his two special teenage charges. Somewhat more present is crazy-hair Aki, whose constant chattering may be dismissed as “bullshitting” but in reality often reveals another way of looking at things and provides a fresh perspective for the lead character. When Haruki confesses that his parents didn’t need him, Aki replies in earnest, “Well, we need you now,” while his first reaction to Nao’s deafness is “Cool. […] You can talk no matter how noisy it is. At a concert, in a storm, under water.” Although these remarks are a simplification of things, Aki’s utterances do highlight that it is not just Haruki that struggles with life, but others, even if they have a stable family and a seemingly certain future, will question themselves as well (‘Why was I born?’ Aki ponders).
Shindo, Hirano Asami’s debut feature length film after several shorts (Heroes Are Always Asleep, 2009, Rabbit and Alisa and Ligthening, both 2010, and Thirst, 2011), began as an award-winning script at the Isama Studio Film Festival. It covers familiar territory, indeed, there is nothing particularly new here. And yet, the tale breathes with little details – the hilarious, youthful enthusiasm of a bunch of teenagers that go gaga over someone who has never touched a guitar in his life merely because he is a leftie, true-to-life moments of the boys looking over a lads mag and choosing their ‘favourite’. Although the editing can sometimes be a bit choppy and further character development would not have been amiss, Shindo is a quiet coming-of-age movie that shows plenty of promise from a director that is wonderfully sensitive towards her characters.
Overall verdict: Although rocking with plenty of music, Shindo is a quiet coming-of-age movie that focuses particularly on Haruki as a too adult youngster that rather than grow up needs to first grow down. It is a short and simple story, not flawless but somehow sweetly satisfying – leaving me curious for more of the director’s future projects.
- Although Shindo already screened at the Skip City International D-Festival (Japan), no other reviews are available in English at the moment, as far as I am aware.
- The film is set to screen at the Pia Film Festival a week prior to Raindance.
- Fingers crossed that there’ll be an OST for this film – there’s some good music here!