Monday 7 September 2020

Streaming on SBS On-Demand - Michael Campi recommends a remarkable debut feature COMPLICITY (Chikaura Kei, Japan, 2018)

Appearing rather unexpectedly on SBS WORLD MOVIES (Channel 32) this weekend, the 2018 Japanese indie film COMPLICITY remains on SBS ON DEMAND until November 2020. 

After making three short films (two of which won prizes in Clermond-Ferrand and Locarno), director Chikaura Kei was intrigued by reports of thousands of overseas technology recruits escaping uncertain employment situations then finding themselves adrift with possibly expired visas. This inspired his first feature film COMPLICITY which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2018 followed by screenings in Busan and Tokyo FILMeX the same year and Berlin shortly after. It was awarded along the way.  

Although Chikaura was directing a nearly two hour film for the first time, he chose very experienced colleagues. Cinematographer Yamazaki Yutaka has worked with directors such as Kore-eda Hirokazu (AFTER LIFE, STILL WALKING and others), Nishikawa Miwa (THE LONG EXCUSE) and Kawase Naomi (STILL THE WATER). 

Fuji Tatsuya,  Lu Yulai, Complicity

Veteran actor Fuji Tatsuya has appeared in nearly 150 films including Kawase Naomi's RADIANCE, Kurosawa Kiyoshi's BRIGHT FUTURE and Oshima Nagisa's IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES and its successor. 

Despite his relative youth, the Chinese actor at the centre of the drama is Lu Yulai whose career spans over thirty films since Gu Changwei's PEACOCK in 2005 followed by a host of others including Kit Hung's SOUNDLESS WIND CHIME, Zhang Yuan's BEIJING FLICKERS and Vivian Qu's TRAP STREET along with short films and television work.

In the startling opening scene of Chikaura's affecting film, we find Lu Yulai as Chen Liang involved in a rushed robbery at night in exchange for the new identity Chen needs. The promise of work as an electronics trainee has long expired. The harsh reality of his luckless position becomes immediately evident in the second scene where he is not in a position to argue with those appearing to be offering assistance: their actions are insincere and unsympathetic.  


As he heads into an uncertain future with an assumed name, we share short scenes set in China recalling the unhappy events which brought him to Japan in the first place: back in Henan Province, his nagging grandmother and an ailing mother need him to advance himself and earn enough money to reopen his late father's workshop. Ironically the older generations don't want him to take up the offer in Japan. Nor does Chen wish to depart at the suggestion of another untrustworthy character. A real catch 22 situation. 


On the run in Japan, his constant calls from his mother cause him increasingly to pile lies upon lies about his progress in the workplace, putting money aside and learning Japanese. When a call to his newly acquired phone and false identity offers work in a provincial soba restaurant, he takes it, finding himself assisted generously by the boss' daughter while her father remains gruff and distant at first with problems of his own before softening to accept the young man as a surrogate son, more of his ideal than the biological one who is brash and cold. 


In his director's statement for Tokyo FILMeX in November 2018, director Chikaura said "this film is about human involvement, or rather, about a young man who continues to run away from his situations and several persons who are willing to get involved with him. I wanted to build a comprehensive portrait of them, and through the portrait I tried to think of this: How can one form his or her identity and define him or herself to others through human involvement? I used "name' as a recurring motif in this film. As an illegal immigrant, the main protagonist from China becomes a marginal existence isolated from society in Japan. One day he pretends to be someone else in his desperation to survive. Here you can say, in other words, this film is about whether a young man who lost his name will get it back or not."


In the days of increasing larger and smaller film festivals on and off the internet, I'm unaware if COMPLICITY has been shown on any big screens in Australia.  SBS provides perhaps a unique chance to see it. At the 2018, Tokyo FILMeX, COMPLICITY was one of four new indie Japanese films presented in an unusual weekend sidebar alongside the main festival screenings. 


Also in the formal festival programme was HIS LOST NAME, which has been seen since then at some Australian festivals, the first narrative feature directed by former Kore-eda assistant Hirose Nanako.   The plots of both films have some elements in common: a young man on the run, assuming another identity and finding work and kinship with an older craftsman (soba noodles on one hand and woodworking on the other). Although the apprenticeship in both films involves different possible careers, there is still an extended food connection.  Like the senior figure in COMPLICITY, the older man in HIS LOST NAME is played by an actor with another lengthy career. Currently Kobayashi Kaoru can be found as the facially scarred owner of a Shinjuku izakaya in the Netflix series MIDNIGHT DINER and its successor MIDNIGHT DINER: TOKYO STORIES which provide several seasons of droll and touching episodes, each lasting about twenty minutes.  Great for snacking between heavier viewing or indeed at midnight. Chances are you might occasionally see a face or two familiar from recent Japanese films. Seems that food is going to be connected somewhere in these modern narratives. 

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