Reviewed by Chris MaGee
Filmmaker Chris Eska certainly didn’t stick close to home when he made his master’s thesis film. Hailing from Ottine, Texas (population: 98) the UCLA film studies grad wasn’t used to the isolation and disconnection of living in a faceless metropolis like Los Angeles, so he took a year off and backpacked through India and Asia; and it was through striking up friendships with backpackers from Japan that he ended up in Tokyo in 2003 where he made “Doki Doki” a film about isolation and disconnection in a faceless metropolis. Funny how life goes in circles like that, isn’t it?
Set on the packed commuter trains of Tokyo and Yokohama the film’s heroine Yumi (Yumi Endo) channels Harriet the Spy, scribbling observations about the people she rides the train with day after day and month after month: the golf obsessed salaryman, the older woman who always falls asleep, the various pervs who surreptitiously grope the female commuters. Who are these people really? What are their lives like? Are they happy? Do they ever wonder the same things about Yumi? It’s these thoughts that crowd Yumi’s mind as the concrete landscape of the city passes outside the train’s windows; but there’s one person that Yumi pays special attention to: a handsome young man named Yosuke (Hayato Sugano). She takes special note of the manga he reads, of the wrinkle of concentration that sometimes crosses his face, how he kindly allows the woman next to him doze on his shoulder and of the phone calls she imagines come from a sick relative. In short Yumi has fallen for him, but is struggling with how to translate those feelings into action.
“Doki Doki” is obviously the work of a young filmmaker and is certainly not perfect. It suffers from the art film cliché of shooting everything except key scenes in black and white and frequently falls into the rut of dwelling on the surface oddity of the Japanese urban landscape: the video arcades, vending machines, the human anthill of Shibuya crossing and the Yokohama Cosmo World Ferris Wheel. That being said it treats Yumi’s dilemma honestly and with a great deal of empathy. Eska frames her tentative pursuit of Yosuke and subsequent emotional flowering by developing the plot line of the depressed and suicidal Makiko (Sae Takenaka), Yumi’s shadow side who seems unable to take the risk and connect with any of the other lonely souls in the city. He also does a wonderful job heightening the films dreamy, love sick mood of by employing music The Postal Service, Yo La Tengo, Dntel and Sigur Ros.
I think that despite “Doki Doki’s” failings Eska should be applauded for his determination and sheer ingenuity. Shot in only ten days for a measly $5,000 including airfare and accommodations for himself and the crew (!) “Doki Doki” has gone onto great success for a first film. It’s been featured nationally in the United States on the PBS program Independent Lens and won the Audience Award at the 2004 Reel Asian Film Festival here in Toronto. That’s quite the value for five grand…
While not easy to track down “Doki Doki” is available through Chris Eska’s website that you can check out here