Friday, August 28, 2009

REVIEW: Now, I...

今、僕は (Ima, Boku wa...)

Released: 2007

Yasutomo Chikuma

Yasutomo Chikuma

Yoshiharu Fujisawa
Masato Shiga

Running time: 87 min.

Reviewed by Matthew Hardstaff

As I struggle to make my own first feature, entirely self financed by a small cabal of friends, I spend much of my time contemplating if it will rise above that cursed label. Self financed first feature. It’s not easy to separate your film from that stigma, unless you’re either independently wealthy, you embrace its short comings and utilize them, or rise above them. Inspired by the life of a friend, 25 year old Chikuma Yasutomo maxed out his credit card, giving his film a budget of 450,000 Yen, or $5000. Limited locations, limited budget, and a limited cast. Is it possible to make something that’s not only cinematically bold, but also moving, poignant and down right brilliant?

"Now, I…" follows Satoru, played with a brooding aura of solitude by Chikuma himself. He’s a NEET, a British term for Not engaged in Education, Employment or Training. In other words, he sits around the house all day playing video games. But this isn’t the geeky guy trying to struggle with the new found responsibility of adulthood, who finds escapism through videogames. Oh, no, Satoru has moved completely past that. He has no connection at all to anything, not even the videogames that occupy most of his time. He drifts through the day, always with the same sullen expression, completely disconnected from life. His mother, the only adult figure he has any contact with, struggles to give him the maternal push out the figurative door. She wants him to get a job, to interact with other people, but his response is always rage, as he verbally lashes out at her, slamming the door. She gets him a job through a friend, Fujisawa , who works at a winery. He performs his menial tasks with the same type of detached distain he does with everything else. He ignores all human contact, never making eye contact with anyone. But a series of events occur that cause a crack in Satoru’s passivity, and he must make a choice to either let the crack turn into a huge fissure, letting the world in, or seal it forever, shutting out the real world permanently.

Regardless of what the circumstances surrounding the making of this film, from its first frame, it quickly becomes apparent that there is great talent both behind and in front of the camera. Chikuma spent time studying method acting and has theatre experience as an actor, so it’s no real surprise that he completely subsumes himself in the role of Satoru. But what really sells the film is its style. Filmed in a documentary style similar to the way Darren Aronofsky filmed "The Wrestler", Satoru is found in almost every single frame of the film, the camera usually hovering behind him, allowing us to peek into his sad world. With its long, devastatingly drawn out scenes, some people may easily be perturbed, while others will be completely enthralled. I was enthralled.

And Chikuma never judges Satoru. He never offers any reason why Satoru ended up this way, but never criticizes him or allows him to be criticized for his actions, or lack there of. The only insight we may have is that he’s incredibly shy. Even when confronted by former high school students at a convenience store, he avoids eye contact, and almost all conversation, as they pester him about what he’s been doing since graduation. But is he shy, or has he just forgotten how to interact? That’s Chikuma’s brilliance with the film, and that’s what makes it stand out. It offers no answers, but it doesn’t set out to. Instead, it shows a portrait of a detached soul, teetering on the edge of the abyss.

Read more by Matthew Hardstaff at his blog.

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