The Japan Foundation is returning to the ICA for a second year to present its new touring film programme, ‘Reality Fiction’. Featuring six films, the season explores the way Japanese directors have used actual events as the source material for their work. While the selection of films is not entirely devoted to crime drama, murder is definitely a popular theme.
Picked from the archives, the 1965 film A Chain of Islands (Nihon retto) begins with the discovery of a drowned US Army Sergeant, found floating in Tokyo Bay; the 1970 film Live Today, Die Tomorrow! (Hadaka no Jukya-sai), directed by Kaneto Shindo, probes the background and motivations of 19-year-old Norio Nagayama, who murdered four people between October and November 1968 using a gun stolen from US troops; in Junji Sakamoto’s 2001 Face (Kao), mild-mannered Masako, who kills her sister in a fit of rage, learns to live on the run in the aftermath of the devastating Kobe earthquake.
In Who’s Camus Anyway? (Kamiyu nante shiranai, 2005), Mitsuo Yanagimachi uses the motiveless killing of an elderly woman by a teenager in 2000 as the basis for a clever film-within-a-film that owes as much to pop culture and teen movies as it does to the crime genre. An impressive long take introduces us to the main characters as the camera tracks around the sunny campus of an arts college: the young, charismatic director, the cool, good-looking cameraman, even the film geek, who enthuses over the infamous opening shots in Touch of Evil and The Player. Their student project is to make a film based on the murder, but their attempts to get into the mind of the killer (which include the obligatory reading of Camus’s The Stranger) lead them into dangerous situations of their own. Yanagimachi could have done more to ramp up the suspense throughout the film, but the terrifically shot, well acted bloody ending leaves the audience unsure of where the boundary between reality and fiction lies.
A much more modest, but powerful film is Yasutomo Chikuma’s Now, I… (Ima, Boku Wa), made in 2007 with a budget of less that $5000. Chikuma, who also wrote and directed the film, plays Satoru, a 20-year-old NEET (‘not engaged in employment, education or training’) who virtually locks himself away in his bedroom in self-imposed isolation. His distraught mother stages an intervention in the form of an acquaintance who offers Satoru a job, but his refusal to engage with the outside world is virtually insurmountable. Chikuma’s sullen, monosyllabic Satoru is both infuriating and strangely endearing, while dramatic moments (which initially seem outsized for such a low-key film) make his exile all the more disturbing.
The Reality Fiction season spans a variety of budgets, eras and genres (historical drama gets a look in with Chosyu Five, about a group of samurai who travel to Europe in the mid-19th century in a bid to master Western technology), but the films all have one thing in common: a desire to understand what drives people to extreme behaviour, whether it’s murder, self-imposed seclusion or sailing halfway around the world.