Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Japan Cuts ’15: 100 Yen Love

Think of it as a hikikomori Rocky, but we are definitely talking about the original, gritty and down-to-earth film—not the flashier sequels. Ichiko is a woman in need of empowerment, who looks for it in the boxing ring during Masaharu Take’s 100 Yen Love (trailer here), which screens as a selection of this year’s Japan Cuts, the Festival of New Japanese Film in New York.

Ichiko is a drop-out near-shut-in who is content to live off her bento box-making mother. Unfortunately, when her divorced younger sister moves in with her young son, the cramped and increasingly tense environment forces Ichiko to move out. To her credit, she also takes a job at the local convenience store. An excessively high self-image has never been her problem. Unfortunately, that also makes relationships difficult, but again, she gives it a good try with Yuji Kano, a thirty seven year-old boxer about to age out of the sport, who is almost as socially clueless as she is.

When Kano eventually dumps Ichiko, she finds solace training in his former gym. For the first time, she develops a real goal: attaining professional status and having an official bout before she in turn ages out (thirty-two being the magic number for female boxers in Japan). As is often the case, that drive helps her become more confident in other spheres of life. Does 100 Yen end with a climatic fight? You bet, but it still largely avoids most of the boxing movie clichés.

Watching 100 Yen back-to-back with Asleep really proves how chameleon-like festival special guest Sakura Ando truly is. In both films she is on-screen carrying the dramatic load nearly every second. They are each highly damaged characters, but in radically different ways, yet she is completely convincing in the two parts. Viewers should be warned, 100 Yen might sound like a quirky woman finding herself story, but Ichiko has to deal with some rough stuff, including a sexual assault. However, there is also real growth and unusual honesty baked into the mix.

Ando is rather extraordinary portraying Ichiko’s transformation. It is a quiet but violent performance. She also has impressive chops in the ring. It is her show and don’t you forget it, but she gets tons of support from a first class supporting ensemble. Saori Koide, Osamu Shigematsu, and Yozaburo Ito all have powerful moments as Ichiko’s sister, her boxing manager, and her father, respectively.

100 Yen is not a showy film, but periodically screenwriter Shin Adachi drops a line that will knock you back on your heels. It also features an awesomely funky soundtrack composed by Shogo Kaida with enough heavy drums to power several movies. Frankly, this film is nothing like what it probably sounds like. Recommended for fans of realistic underdog dramas, 100 Yen Love screens this Thursday (7/16) at the Japan Society, as part of the 2015 Japan Cuts.