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Japanese guerrilla filmmaking at its most indie, Saudade (a Portuguese word for longing and nostalgia) is a strangely suggestive work of docu-fiction that offers a rare portrait of multi-ethnic, working class Japan spiraling downwards with the economic recession. What will hold the film back for many viewers is director/writer/editor Tomita Katsuya’s rambling story that spins on for nearly three long hours with no attempt at synthesis, allowing what little dramatic structure there is to emerge casually. Winner of the best film prize at Nantes, this no-budget follow-up to the director’s 2007 Off Highway 20 will find most appreciation with patient festival viewers willing to overlook its tedium for the sake of the Heimat-like lives of quiet desperation it artfully documents.
There are very few upbeat moments in the intertwining stories, set in Tomita’s grimly modern hometown of Kofu, outside Tokyo. The 36-year-old Seiji works on a small building crew that digs the foundations of new shopping malls. His obnoxious, social-climbing wife works in a beauty parlor; he fantasies escaping with his Thai girlfriend, hostess in a pub. Seiji’s happy-go-lucky pal Hosaka has lived in Thailand, where he ran afoul of the law over drugs. Their hot, sweaty work has a dignity that ever so slowly disappears as more and more workers get laid off.
The film’s other thread involves the co-existence of large Brazilian and Filipino communities, who came to Japan during the last economic boom and now find themselves shut out of the dwindling job market. The “foreigners” provide an irrational focus for the rage of a younger construction worker, Amano (played with ferocious realism by musician and composer Stillichimiya), a hiphopper and racist waiting for a chance to explode.
D.P. Takako Takano shoots with natural lighting, come what may; this sometimes includes dark, unreadable faces, but also allows the naturally moving camera to entrap the characters in a world of grubby realism. Tomita’s artfulness is seen in the natural way the story shifts focus and, score one point for the drawn-out running time, there is a real sense of time passing, day after day.
Bottom line: Working class lives of quiet desperation stand out with startling reality in a long-winded but skilfully lensed Japanese indie
Venue: Hong Kong Film Festival (Indie Power section), Mar. 24, 2012.
Production company: Kuzoku
Cast: Takano Tsuyoshi, Ito Hitoshi, Stillichimiya, Dengaryu, Kawase Yota, Kudo Chie
Director: Tomita Katsuya
Screenwriters: Aizawa Toranosuke, Tomita Katsuya
Producers: Date Kotaro, Tomita Satomi
Executive Producer: Takayuki Sasamoto
Director of photography: Takako Takano
Editors: Tomita Katsuya, Takano Yoshiko
Sales Agent: Kuzoku
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