The programmers at this year's Nippon Connection Film Festival did a fantastic job contrasting mainstream hits like Yukihiko Tsutsumi's "20th Century Boys" and Toshio Lee's "Detroit Metal City" with cutting edge independent content in their Nippon Digital programme. While not everything in this programme was perfection there were definitely some gems in the bunch, and for me those that shone brightest were the films from the all-female directors collective called Peaches. Currently comprised of nine young female filmmakers Peaches has run an annual film festival (poster above) in Tokyo since 2006 using the motto "More space for female directors!" It's a very hands on organization with the filmmakers taking an active role in everything from distribution to the films' screenings. In keeping with this D.I.Y. ethos two of the Peaches roster were in Frankfurt to present their films, Mayumi Yabe with "Bunny in Hovel" and Yumiko Beppu with "Csikospost", but 30-year-old Kanagawa native Aki Sato was not on hand for the screening of her 42-minute drama "emerger". I was a bit disappointed by this because I was deeply affected by her sparely constructed but utterly profound film about two lonely people finding each other in the gray anonymity of modern Tokyo.
Sawa (Fusaki Urabe) just wants sex. That's what she says in her profile posted on an online singles site. No strings attached sex with an attractive woman in her early 30's. The men who email in response to Sawa's ad are told to meet her at the Hotel Ripple, a love hotel across from her apartment, but the whole endeavor isn't going as she planned. Of course men agree to meet her and some even show up, but once they see Sawa wearing a neck brace, a cast on her ankle and hobbling around the hotel room on crutches whatever dirty thrills they were imagining quickly fizzle out. It's gotten to the point that it's hardly worth Sawa's while to even limp across the street to the hotel, so most days she just surfs the single's site and surveys the entrance of the Hotel Ripple with a pair of binoculars from the balcony of her apartment. Sawa's sister is concerned about her injured sibling, but Sawa's husband Koichi is almost entirely absent, seemingly more concerned with his passion for fly-fishing than any passion for his wife.
One day Sawa discovers an equally damaged individual during her vigil on her balcony. A man bloody and bruised after taking a beating from a gang of thugs lays in a crumpled heap out in front of the hotel. Sawa goes down to help him and brings him upstairs. It turns out that this man, Mochizuki, has been looking for someone at the Hotel Ripple as well - his ex-boyfriend who has gotten himself involved in some shady dealings. Once Mochizuki has been swabbed, bandaged and disinfected Sawa makes him an offer: he can keep an eye out for his ex from her balcony. There's no danger of getting beaten to a pulp up there with her, and soon both Mochizuki and Sawa are perched on high waiting for ex-lovers and potential lovers respectively.
"emerger" is a delicate, sad duet between Fusaki Urabe's eccentric, troubled Sawa and Mitsugu Sato's brooding, wounded Mizoguchi. Both actors convey a naturalness and unpredictability in their performances that you rarely get to see in Japanese films. Meanwhile Aki Sato's script eschews the usual implausible love story between polar opposites (and in this case opposite sexual orientations). Instead she shows us Sawa's and Mizoguchi's less than ideal relationships with their partners in order to give their desperate quest for honest human connection that much more credibility. The slow but steady emotional momentum of the script is countered by Yutaka Koide's cool cinematography that mirrors the ordered and impersonal look of Jun Ichikawa's Haruki Murakami adaptation "Tony Takitani". And not to give any spoilers, but the symbolic nature of Sawa's injuries end up giving way to a much more concrete reality, one that is crucial to bringing "emerger" to a lovely and heartbreaking crescendo.
A little too long to be considered a short film, "emerger" also wouldn't benefit at all from more padding to make it a standard 90-minute feature length. It delivers its story of urban loneliness perfectly during its 3/4 of an hour length... and I deliberately choose the word "perfect" in that sentence. "emerger" is a rare film, one that isn't afraid to take on very deep emotions, but a film that never feels maudlin or manipulative. Let's hope that it finds the audience that it so richly deserves.