Short Hope: Jeonju Review

Jeonju International Film Festival
Modest-sized, sure-handed debut driven by a measured turn from his child-actor star.

Late-blooming Japanese indie filmmaker Masaki Horiguchi bows with a film about a boy's pursuit of his estranged biological father.

Despite falling short of securing any awards at the Jeonju International Film Festival, 49-year-old Masaki Horiguchi has proved his mettle with a modest-sized, emotionally subdued directorial debut revolving around a pre-pubescent boy's rite of passage via his journey to his late mother's nightclub-dancer past. Featuring a poised performance from the young actor Ryuto, Short Hope is a miniature which should easily find a niche in Asian indie showcases seeking the Hirokazu Koreeda; while not exactly matching the older director's mastery and pedigree, Horiguchi might just find a late start of a career.

In what is his first solo, top-billing role, Ryuto plays Kazuya, a boy living with his slacker step-father Ryosuke (Jun Toba). The film begins with the boy's voice proclaiming "Gypsy is dead": it might be a direct allusion to the passing of his mother, who performs in a nightclub under that stage name; but it also sets the stage for the boy to try and lay his listless soul to rest, as he attempts to rediscover the father whom he thinks would give him a sense of belonging.

Armed with two artifacts left by his mother - a photograph of her entertaining a male client (whom Kazuya believes is his father) and a half-packet of unconsumed "Hope"-brand cigarettes  (hence the film's title) - the boy embarks on a journey which leads him to a neighboring town and the dancehall which was once his mother's workplace. His desire for some real roots of course is shot down as he discovers the man in the picture as a bad guy: Yoshida (Reita Serizawa) marrying into a powerful political clan, and is eyeing a step into the establishment by running for a there-for-the-taking parliamentary seat.

Whereas Short Hope sees once-held expectations quashed underfoot, new ones are born. Kazuya's transformation from a boy to a teenager is tactfully hinted at and handled; without unleashing too much melodrama, Horiguchi generates solidarity for those abandoned, as Kazuya bonds with Yoshida's spurned girlfriend Mari (Mami Nakamura) and finally even his step-father. Never veering towards loud gestures to drive the narrative forward or make the feelings obvious and known, Short Hope is small and delicate, but a competent nugget all the same.

Venue: Jeonju International Film Festival (International Competition), May 4, 2014

Production Company: Short Hope Production Connection

Director: Masaki Horiguchi

Cast: Ryuto, Jun Toba, Mami Nakamura, Reita Serizawa

Producer: Masaya Takahashi

Screenwriter: Masaki Horiguchi

Director of Photography: Masayuki Nakazawa

Art Director: Syuji Yamashita

Editor: Yukako Kobayashi

Music: Otoji & Ray

In Japanese

76 minutes

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