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.”
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.
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.