Thank you John Krasinski

Off Topic
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SGN is a great idea. Hope he can continue with this every once in a while just as it is. Never a genuine show on a network or streaming service. Of course he’s just sharing what others have been online, but being who he is (plus he’s married to an amazing actress too–so jealous), he’s the perfect distribution point for all those pockets of personal stories throughout the internet.

Coming Back Sunny

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The English language is filled with words to express a feeling or emotion through a color: “green with envy”, “feeling blue”, “seeing red”, “a yellow coward”, etc. But do such words and phrases have equal signficance to the color blind who perceive the world differently? Yuasa Noriko’s short movie Coming Back Sunny is a movie about adolescence and the maelstrom of emotions that come with high school life. Shiori, the protagonist, is unable to perceive red and green. To her these colors seem the same umber color. Then one day, she sees a flash of red in a colorless petal picked up by her friend Yumi. Thus begins Shiori’s plunge into newfound experiences of her world and those around her.

The story is an elegantly styled allegory for a teenage girl’s awakening emotions as it changes her relations with people (and vice-versa); her color-blindness only serves to enchance the wonder and confusion she experiences. The first time the phenomenon occurs, she describes it through onomatopoetic words often used in Japanese: “whoosh, boom, OMG”. It’s not a coicidence those same Japenese words can be used to express the kind of swooning someone may feel when they first fall in love or become attracted to someone. The fact this happens when her friend Yumi touches the petal is of particular importance. But as she begins to see red everywhere, Shiori becomes confused. The situation is not helped by an apparent “betrayal” by her friend, and an encounter with a high school boy who claims they are a destined couple; here the term “blush” being used. Ultimately, Shiori’s bewilderment becomes the impetus for exploring her burgeoning sexual identity and the choices ahead for her.

Taking advantage of a RED cinema camera, Yuasa portrays a bright colorful world around Shiori to emphasize the circumstance of her color-blind protagonist . More importantly, Yuasa skillfully employs editing to paint particular emotional states– drops of water color paint into clear water have both a symbolic significance when cut between scenes such as the moment Shiori becomes angry at Yumi or the opening sequence of dancing, energetic teens; and literal significance as these seem to be the paints being used by a boy Shiori encounters. A skillful storyteller in various mediums and formats, Yuasa displays a confident hand in how she wants this adolescent love story to unfold. If there is only one drawback, the 15 minute runtime only hints at some something more as seen in Yumi’s determined look at the close of the movie. What has been presented would make a fine presentation reel to raise funds for an episodic or feature. Yuasa herself commented on her Instagram (linked here): “This film is my own ‘Romeo and Juliet’. And it is not finished yet, and the story ends just before it reaches its peak.” Fingers crossed she can develop this story to its full potential. An Audience Award win at the ARFF Paris certainly shows there is an (ahem) audience for it. The Firenze Film Corti Festival also just recently announced Coming Back Sunny is a selection finalist for their upcoming 7th edition, though with the coronavirus pandemic, dates are still up in the air.

Meanwhile, Yuasa is developing a feature project from her original screenplay. Currently the project, tentatively titled Performing Kaoru’s Funeral, has begun seeking financing with an American producer which came about through her participation at the American Film Market in 2019. The movie is described as a “heavy comedy . . . packed with immense irony and love” that will “[depict] the last moments of a woman’s life.” More on this as information is released.

“Invisible Creatures” Screening

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Time travel, time convergences, causalities, and such are usually the stuff of sci-fi or fantastical adventures most recently seen in that movie involving a certain “time heist.” That is not to say the narrative devices can not be used on a smaller scale to equally entertaining and even more profound results. Such is the case with Takayama Kohei’s smartly structured mid-length Invisible Creatures.

Opening with an atmospheric shot introducing two of the central characters–or maybe just one–the strange set up begins a bizarre journey down a Mobiüs strip intertwining what had once happened with what will become. Confusing perhaps, but such is the intent of the movie’s early Lynch-ian developments designed to cast doubt on the situation as much as the male protagonist doubts the old man who claims to be his future self. Whatever “message from the future” the old man may have is garbled and confused as its messenger. As the two mock one another with almost characteristically similar mannerisms, the situation grows more bewildered and frenzied until something happens; a moment of clarity for both in which they recall wanting to become invisible and a forest where only invisible creatures can enter.

From there what transpires is the “present” making amends with the “past”; their convergences leading to self-discovery. On a genre level, Takayama handily creates a narrative about cause and effect, setting past, present, and future on an intriguing collision course through which a cycle is repeated from father to son to daughter. There’s certainly some familiarty to be found in the broader strokes, but this is less a story about undoing the past than it is learning to recognize who you are now from the context of who you had been. Therein lies the true heart of the movie, reinforced by Takayama’s storytelling which–no matter how phantasmagorical–deals with a universally tangible theme.

Invisible Creatures Still
Okada Yurino in Invisible Creatures / ©Takayama Kohei

From the outset of the movie, the idea of becoming invisible is introduced to the young boy central in the story. The forest previously mentioned is a place to reunite with his “grandfather.” Made to feel transparent (the literal translation of the Japanese “tomei”) by his father, he is left with no other recourse than to try invoking some magic so that he may become as invisbile as he is treated. The fanciful notion seems like a typical way a child might deal with playing alone, like an imaginary friend. However, it’s when the story returns to a young girl also seen in the first act arguing with a middle-aged man who summarily dismisses her, telling her to go be with her real mother that the essence of being “transparent” and resolving “to disappear” takes on real-world familiarity. Estranged from her inadequate birth mother, paid little attention from her father, and without friends at school her plight as a teen takes on sympathetic significance; much more so considering a young boy could have similar feelings. When these two meet, there is immediate empathy between them–as if they know one another.

How all this concludes is something best experienced by viewers first hand. Suffice it to say, the offbeat turn of events of the first half literary emerges from the fog with a heartfelt story of the cyclical nature of human beings and seeing one’s part in perpetuating or breaking one’s own cycle.

The Screening

I had not seen Takayama-san since first meeting him at the Osaka Asian Film Festival in 2018, though we have kept in touch. I was more than happy to have this opportunity to speak with him at the screening event, touching base on what he was trying to accomplish with this movie in comparison to The Path Leading to Love. Before the screening began, Takayama-san revealed those in attendance were to be the first to view the completed movie other than himself; those he had invited were the people he wanted to see it. I felt an extra sense of honor when he said this as there were some recognizable names in Japanese film journalism also in attendance.

Invisible Creatures was completed through crowdfunding and there was a second screening for donators immediately after the one I attended so the reception area at the Film School of Tokyo was packed with supporters waiting to enter the screening theater. This meant I only had a short moment to express my quick thoughts on the movie to Takayama-san before having to leave, but I later emailed him a more detailed comment. He later replied that because it’s such an unorthodox movie and people who came to see it were expounding their impressions or interpretations of it, he feels the movie is truly coming to completion as a creative work through this collective sharing.

To that end, Takayama-san is naturally looking to harness screenings at home and abroad to further that sharing. Inquiries can be made at Takayama-san’s homepage by clicking here.

“Paradise Lost” Screening

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The key to viewing Fukuma Kenji’s latest Paradise Lost is to think of the movie as not being strictly a “movie.” Like protest songs, spoken word poems, and even punk music, it is less concerned about formal structure and cinematic precepts than delivering the message. Paradise Lost has something to say about our times and who we are as people in the 21st century and thus Fukuma eschews what most viewers will be expecting to see when the lights go dark in the theater. In fact, it is best to think of Paradise Lost as a stage production put to film. And like any other play, actors are vehicles for the words; dialogue becomes lines of prose or expressions of abstract thoughts rather than things ordinary people would say. Taken in this context, Paradise Lost takes on the trappings of the story by Hara Tamiki and the poem by Kinoshita Yuji which first inspired Fukuma. This author is not familiar with the their works, but the resulting movie suggests they are intellectual examinations of existence.

At its heart Paradise Lost delves into the loss of the ideal and how living things react when that happens. Through the story of a wife who suddenly loses her husband, the viewer is shown a variety of people who feel they have lost something and are seeking to regain their own sense of place . There are students who are pursuing a better world, but argue the modern “paradise” is a trap inviting complacency due to prosperity; that the need to overcome despair drives the need to seek something better. A scene detailing small idols representing an ideal society where people are free to practice a trade of their choosing or even do nothing at all under the governance of a benevolent leader characterizes their standpoint. This “paradise” is viewed with wonder by the adult characters but is incomprehensible to a student, one of the central characters. The disparity brings into relief how youth still seek a place in a world not of their making, to “make their mark,” whereas adulthood finds allure in the “stability” of having already carved out their place and rejects “upheavals” which could lead to displacement.

This is where the story of the wife, played by Wada Misa of Siblings of the Cape plays a central role in humanizing the rather dense, intellectual exercise. The unexpected loss of her husband is a very personal deprivation of “paradise” or an ideal life. Her journey from grieving to finding a new path without her husband is immediately relatable. Yet, also tangentially bounds the aforementioned need to overcome despair in order to move forward. Though at a loss as to what to do at the outset, she never loses hope thanks to supportive friends and a budding new relationship. She isn’t seeking paradise, nor is she trying to change the world. She just desires to rediscover her place in life. As she says during one of the movie’s musical interludes: “It isn’t paradise here, but people aren’t discouraged to live.”

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Eto Shuhei as Yamaguchi Shinya / ©tough mama

Two important characters serve as the movie’s more esoteric notions. Shinya, the deceased husband played by Eto Shuhei, wanders the world both as a physically seen presence and as a “felt” presence when characters break the fourth wall by looking into and speaking to the camera. In a sense, Shinya also lost his ideal–to be alive–and is seeking where to go. He made searching for the truth an essential element of his life, only to die before finding it. He comes to realize a different truth however: “no one or thing can judge anyone.” The afterlife, it seems, is not so much about heaven or hell rather becoming more than you once were. Contrasting Shinya is the character of Mori Hirakazu. An enigmatic man one could easily characterize as “homeless” in the real world, but is officially designated a “wanderer” in Fukuma’s setting. Hirakazu seems like Virgil from Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ (if you would allow the mixed metaphor), aware of many things as he is knowledgeable about them, yet unable to proceed onto Paradiso. He states at one point that a simple joy is peace, but such peace makes him afraid and so he runs away. This could be the reason why, as the movie draws to a close and the characters respectively have begun to move on, Hirakazu’s denouement is the most fascinating of all. But Hirakazu’s waywardness may be the closest to most people’s own dilemmas; despondent and filled with trepidation like Adam and Eve at the time of the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden. And yet that is also the moment the angel Michael tells Adam “he may find a paradise within…happier far.” From despair, comes hope…with effort.

Paradise Lost is a movie recapturing an era when artistic works were created to instigate discourse that would effect cultural change and spark socio-political action. Though this may superficially paint it as “outdated,” in a contemporary world increasingly appearing not only rudderless, but leaderless amid mass or mob partisanship, Paradise Lost rekindles the need for independent thought and intellectual discourse possible with independent cinema.

The Screening

As with most independent releases, Paradise Lost was screened at the Film School of Tokyo screening room located within the Eurospace theater in Shibuya. Director Fukuma Kenji was on hand with his wife and producer Keiko. Before the lights went out Ms. Fukuma came to my seat and greeted me personally, a lovely touch considering we had never met nor spoken with one another before. Small, independent productions like these are often self-distributed as is the case with Paradise Lost, therefore I truly felt how much she values each and every person who comes to see the movie, even at a press screening. She kindly provided the materials and photographs I needed to write this article.

Paradise Lost opens on March 20th at Uplink Kichijoji. Please refer to their homepage for showtimes and tickets: https://joji.uplink.co.jp

If you’re interested in screening the movie at your event, please contact me at konnichiwa[at]indie-visual.net and I can help put you in touch with the print source.

Notes on the Margin

– Fukuma Kenji was going to shoot a story in Hokkaido titled Tenshi no Ikiru Basho (lit. where angels live) in February of 2018 when it was abruptly cancelled.
– He completed the plot for Paradise Lost in June and began meeting with potential actors.
– While scouting locations in their local area the Fukumas were surprised to discover places they hadn’t known. They deliberated how to make use of them in the movie.
Filming began on August 23rd and finished on September 1st; a 10 day shoot.
– The final scene in the movie where a party at the art school is being held was the last scene of principle photography.