Kuro: Tokyo Film Festival Review

Three’s company in this feather-light drama from Japan.

Airi Kido, Yu Saitoh and Hideo Nakaizumi play odd bedfellows in Daisuke Shimote’s lighthearted debut feature.

A trio of Tokyoites jitterbugs through a series of absurdist set pieces on their way to self-discovery in Kuro, the self-consciously quirky debut feature by Japanese director Daisuke Shimote. Insubstantial but occasionally diverting, it’s a comic drama whose purely physical comedy comes in fits and starts, seemingly independent of the narrative.

Daisuke reveals a good eye for composition and, although Kuro doesn’t have the substance to travel much further than its slot in the Japanese Eyes section of the Tokyo International Film Festival, it’s a respectable calling card for the former art student whose studies have focused on the works of legendary cinematic craftsman Yasujiro Ozu.

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Formerly known as Hanare Banareni, which loosely translates as “far apart”, the new title aptly reflects the dominant role played by the female member of the group. Kuro (cute newcomer Airi Kido) is an ennui-addled teen with scant regard for social niceties or the law. She works in a bakery in such a desultory way that it’s hard to believe her big dream is to be a baker herself.

Summarily fired for slacking off, she is scooped up off the street after creating a ruckus by stealing from some jazz buskers (she later shapes the pilfered yen into paper airplanes). Her saviour, it turns out, is Gou (Hideo Nakaizumi), a theater director whose latest production is in limbo after losing its diva-like lead actress.

The two head out of Tokyo in his vintage car, stopping to pick up Eito (Yu Saitoh), hitchhiking after his car has broken down. Eito, a photographer who has just broken up with his fiancée, leads them to the seaside, to a deserted inn that belonged to his late uncle. Through silent agreement the three strangers begin living there, with the chain-smoking Kuro getting the upper hand whenever there is dissension in the ranks.

Sparse dialogue and long, static takes, in which Daisuke often reconfigures the trio in the frame for the hell of it, give these scenes an observational quality and serve to emphasize the distance between the emotionally vacant characters.

They amuse themselves with silly games and there are some nice sequences, including one involving lobster soup and another in which a half-hearted game of Wii turns entertainingly theatrical when moved outside.

Still, the narrative is bare-bones, the pace obstinately slow and the ending fizzles. The formality of the framing nods to the filmmaker’s appreciation of Ozu’s works, as do the conspicuous flashes of the color red.

Production company: Particle Pictures

Venue: Tokyo International Film Festival

Cast: Airi Kido, Yu Saitoh, Hideo Nakaizumi

Writer-director: Daisuke Shimote

Producer: Takahito Obinata

Executive producer: Taeko Sudo

Director of photography: Takahiro Haibara

Editor: Yusuke Nagae

Music: Airi Kido, Hideo Nakaizumi  

Sales: Particle Pictures, Tokyo

No rating, 100 minutes