The Kirishima Thing: Hong Kong Review

The Kirishima Thing Still H
Entertaining and mostly effective, if slightly simplistic, yarn about high school status.

The myth of high school power is deconstructed in Yoshida Daihachi’s ensemble drama.

Playground politics never looked as complex and life altering as they do in Yoshida Daihachi’s high school drama The Kirishima Thing, wherein the titular big man on campus’ seemingly offhanded decision to drop his extra-curricular activities throws the school’s carefully modulated and hermetic hierarchy into disarray. Kirishima will likely speak to young audiences in Asia far more than their peers in Europe and North America, where teenaged angst is largely rooted in different issues, but Yoshida’s assured direction and light touch give the film a welcoming tone that offers an entry point to all viewers -- young and old. It’s still a festival film but limited art house release isn’t out of the question. Its biggest hurdle is its slightly reductive nature, engaging to watch though it may be.

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Like Rebecca in the Daphne du Maurier mystery, star athlete and general overachiever Kirishima is never seen on screen yet his presence looms large. No one, neither characters nor viewers, are given a reason for Kirishima’s sudden rebellion, hardly an unforgiveable oversight, as that’s not what the story is about. Kirishima is initially told from three points of view (Asai Ryo’s book on which the film is based was told in three blocks), rewinding the early sequences and setting up the delicate balance among the “in” crowd, those that precariously straddle the fence and the nerds. Kirishima’s best buddy and volleyball teammate Hiroki (Masahiro Higashide) is baffled by his absence, while his secretly insecure queen bee girlfriend Risa (Yamamoto Mizuki) finds herself lacking definition without him. Film club geek Maeda (Ryunosuke Kamiki) finally gets a chance to be heard without Kirishima around, and closet film geek Kasumi (Hashimoto, Ai) is freed of the restraints that kept her in the cool club. Finally, brass band musician Aya (Ohgo Suzuka), who has a crush on Hiroki, sheds some of her wallflower attributes.

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Many of The Kirishima Thing’s central ideas are familiar ones -- that Kirishima’s power is given to him and not earned; that the constant demands to conform in Japan quash natural growth -- but Yoshida, best known for lighter comedies like his breakout Funuke Show Some Love, You Losers!, wraps them in compelling enough characters to move the story forward. Watching the kids struggle with being forced into personal agency is at times bittersweet, at others almost thrilling. Yoshida doesn’t get fancy with the camera, and the cinematography by Kondo Ryuto effectively mirrors the kids’ headspace as the story progresses: sharp and colorful when Kirishima is still a guiding factor in their lives, murkier around the edges once he vanishes. Things get a bit heavy handed when everything comes to a head during Maeda’s zombie movie shoot, but by then the slow emergence of independence, particularly in Kasumi and Hiroki, is satisfying enough to let it slide. The performances by the young cast are uniformly strong and help make the unfathomable situation believable for those of us too old to remember high school trauma.

Producer: Sato Takahiro
Director: Yoshida Daihachi
Cast: Kamiki Ryunosuke, Hashimoto, Ai, Ohgo Suzuka, Higashide Masahiro, Shimizu Kurumi, Yamamoto Mizuki, Matsuoka Mayu, Ochiai Motoki, Asaka Koudai, Maeno Tomoya, Suzuki Nobuyuki, Fujii Takemi, Taiga
Screenwriter: Kiyasu Kohei, Yoshida Daihachi, based on the novel by Asai Ryo
Director of Photography: Kondo Ryuto
Music: Kondo Tatsuo
Costume Designer: Endo Yoshiki
Editor: Kusakabe Mototaka
No rating, 103 minutes