Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Japan Cuts ’10: Parade

Five young people sharing living quarters might sound like a familiar comedic set-up, but at least the apartment is realistically small. While these roommates might have their requisite eccentricities, there is sense menace lurking on the margins of their lives in Isao Yukisada’s Parade (trailer here), a selection of this year’s Pusan and Berlin Film Festivals, which screens during the 2010 Japan Cuts: Festival of Contemporary Japanese Film now underway at the Japan Society.

Technically, it is the perennially stressed-out Naoki’s apartment, but he took on three roommates after his girlfriend left. Frankly, it is meant for two people, but somehow they manage reasonably well. Ryosuke is an underachieving college student, Mirai is an “f-hag” graphic artist, and the unemployed Kotomi simply whiles away the time waiting for her television actor boyfriend to call. Into the mix comes Satoru, a blond street hustler invited in one by a roommate too dead drunk at the time to remember after the fact. It hardly matters though. Once he is in, he is essentially accepted, and besides Naoki (who constantly labors for a film distributor), he is the only one who works steadily.

Amazingly, when not living atop each other, the five roomies go out together quite regularly. Life seems to be a drunken blur for the fab five, but there is a disturbing vibe lingering below the surface. Yukisada introduces three possible plot points that might upset their mostly responsibility-free lives. There are news reports of a serial killer targeting women in the neighborhood. Closer to home, Kotomi and Ryosuke suspect the next door apartment is a den of prostitution. As the film opens, Ryosuke also receives the tragic news that a freshman year classmate recently died in an accident. One of these developments provides Parade’s ultimate kicker.

Deftly helmed, Parade is deceptively understated. It often feels like a sitcom threatening to break into a horror film. Yet, while somewhat telegraphed, it painstakingly establishes the foundation for the quiet horror of its conclusion.

Though certainly an ensemble piece, Tatsuya Fujiwara and Kento Hayashi, as Naoki and Satoru respectively, eventually take over the film. It is hard to describe their dynamic between them, but they handle the balancing act quite well. The uni-named Karina is also a consistently intriguing presence, making quite an impression as the sometimes unsettling Mirai. Conversely, Shihori Kanjiya and Kensuke Koide learn more towards the comedic as Kotomi and Ryosuke.

Parade is a very smart movie that offers a cogent criticism of our aimless, desensitized times. Effectively constructed and executed, it is a very accomplished work. Highly recommended, it screens at the Japan Society on Friday (7/9) and Saturday (7/10), with Yukisada in attendance for Q&A at both showings.