Friday, February 16, 2018

IFFR ’18 on Festivalscope: YEAH

It is unfortunate few people live in Ako’s provincial housing complex, because she could use some supervision. She definitely has persistent mental health issues, but she might also be haunted by ghosts (with an outside chance of being one herself). Regardless, it is nearly impossible for her to make human connections in Yohei Suzuki’s long short or short feature YEAH, one of several recent selections from the International Film Festival Rotterdam that streams for a limited time on Festivalscope’s public-facing VOD platform.

When we first meet Ako, she is having an earnest discussion with a tailor’s mannequin and an old growth tree somewhere in the wooded outskirts surrounding the complex. Since all the cookie-cutter buildings look the same, she accidentally barges into the wrong flat—a relatively common occurrence judging from the matronly mother’s reaction. However, her teen son is much more forgiving of Ako’s eccentricities. In fact, he might be the only person who really looks out for her during the course of the film.

Ako’s family situation is a little uncertain, but she definitely has a brother who would like to commit her for a while. Eventually, she meets another young woman who is as off as she is, but it is still not a healthy relationship. She really ought to seek out the kindly lad, but she is obviously not thinking clearly.

YEAH (an oblique reference to Ako’s difficulties with American colloquialisms) manages to combine the look of vérité naturalism with an unsettling sense of the surreal. Even in the economically depressed town of Mito, Ako’s world should not be so depopulated and lonely. Yet, she careens about on her own, with only the occasional snarky teen mocking her from afar. Visually, it serves as a metaphor for the isolation and alienation resulting from her scrambled psyche.

Despite Suzuki’s challenging aesthetic approach, the film is almost entirely reliant on Elisa Yanagi’s haunted and haunting portrayal as Ako. She can be disruptive and vexing, but Yanagi vividly taps into her unspecified traumas, laying herself emotionally bare. We really want things to be better for her, which is frustrating, but also the sign of a lethally effective performance.

YEAH is the rare sort of film that is tough to watch on both stylistic terms and on a gut level. Although Suzuki does his best to keep the allegorical readings abstract, it leaves us with a nagging suspicion all is not right with the world. The awkward forty-five-minute running time also makes it difficult to categorize and program, in a betwixt and between sort of way. At least those who appreciate subtly avant-garde cinema will have their chance to take it all in while YEAH streams for public audiences on Festivalscope, through February 20th.