'Their Distance': Filmart/Hong Kong Review
Japanese director Rikiya Imaizumi leads three-fifths of Korean boy band Nu’Est on a romantic journey in his latest feature.
Rikiya Imaizumi revisits the ensemble romance of Sad Tea, which revolved around a more glamorous filmmaker and a pop idol, for the emotional trials and tribulations of a decidedly unglamorous yet genetically blessed group of twentysomethings navigating a love heptangle in Their Distance. Well constructed if only fleetingly insightful, when the pic does manage to make a salient point about contemporary relationships it really lands, no matter which generational box a viewer may tick. Slight to the point of vanishing and probably better suited to the intimacy of television (it’s easy to imagine this story unfolding in an episode of a cable drama), Imaizumi’s modern eye and deft feel for youthful romantic rhythms should earn the film a secure place on the festival circuit. Success in South Korea should be at least moderate, given the presence of Nu’Est boy bandmembers Ren, Minhyun and JR, which should translate regionally given the continued Asian obsession with all things K-Pop. Overseas distribution will rely on niche urban markets.
The dots in Their Distance begin to connect with Leon (Ren), the supermodel/shoe repair worker with a past he can’t forgive himself for. His life is defined by drudgery and the same lunch on the same park bench every day. Leon works with Kokaze (Fumiko Aoyagi), who has a not-so-subtle crush on him, though after finding the hungover Suna (Villain’s Hanae Kan) on his bench, Leon sparks to life ... a bit. Suna’s Japanese language student buddy Sangsoo (Minhyun) develops a thing for Kokaze, while her boyfriend Jiwoo (JR) falls for his teacher Kanako (Haruka Kinami, in the film’s strongest performance). This all leads back to Leon, who witnessed the car accident that put Kanako’s philandering boyfriend Arakawa (Tateto Serizawa) in a wheelchair. Much navel-gazing and emotional honesty ensues.
The biggest ailment afflicting Their Distance is writer, director and editor Imaizumi’s inability to commit to a single mood. When Leon begins his comic pursuit of Suna (some would call it stalking), and which Kokaze doubles down on (ditto the stalking) the film takes on a screwy, light tone that’s dropped quickly in favor of more genuine dramatic elements, highbrow arty observation and irony. As the contrivances and coincidences pile up, the characters as people lose their momentum and begin to feel more like chess pieces to be manipulated by a clever filmmaker.
Nonetheless, Imaizumi does manage several moments of real empathy and astute perceptions, those coming courtesy most often of Kinami and Serizawa. Their protracted, supremely uncomfortable and honest discussion about their flailing relationship and their future together feels grown-up in a way Kan and JR’s does not in the same situation. The latter two do a lot of staring at the table through perfect bangs and mumbling about wanting to be straight with each other (Joe Swanberg would be proud). Kinami in particular brings a gravity to Kanako that elevates the younger performers’ work by association; she’s subtle and reactive, telegraphing feelings that aren’t in the script. Technical specs are functional without being flashy, though not particularly innovative.
Production company: Nikkatsu, So-net Entertainment, Ariola Japan
Cast: Ren, Fumiko Aoyagi, Hanae Kan, Minhyun, JR, Haruka Kinami, Tateto Serizawa
Director-screenwriter: Rikiya Imaizumi
Producer: Yoshi Kino, Sonju Yan
Executive producer: Aki Sugihara, Hideki Nakano, Shunsuke Fujiwara
Director of photography: Hiroshi Iwanaga
Production designer: Norihiro Iimori
Costume designer: Toshiaki Seki
Editor: Rikiya Imaizumi
World sales: Nikkatsu
In Japanese, Korean
Not rated, 107 minutes