Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Hollywood Reel Independent ’17: Seppuku (short)

She goes by Marie, but her parents call her Mari. That gives you an idea of the generational divide separating them. Frankly, the prospective Olympian is not inclined to deal with her family or her heritage, but a possibly career-ending injury sparks a fantastically-charged journey into her subconscious that may very well change everything (one way or another) in Daryn Wakasa’s short film Seppuku, which screens as part of the Shorts 18g program at this year’s Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival.

Mari/Marie holds the record for the 400 meter, but she will probably miss the Olympics due to a torn hamstring. Surgery would be the logical course of action, but Mari is acting on emotion, lashing out at her parents and defiantly training anyway. Her workout looks painful even before she crashes and blackouts.

Suddenly, Mari finds herself in the desert, accompanied by Bettari, a Ghost of Christmas Future-like figure, who also bears some resemblance to the nurse she encountered earlier in the day. Mari will dutifully follow Bettari (presumably a reference to the bridal kimono-wearing “nothing but blackened teeth” Ohaguro Bettari Yokai spirits) to the Manzanar internment camp, where she will face an increasingly strange series of challenges.

Seppuku was shot on-location at Manzanar and a medical office, both of which look like really depressing places to spend Purgatory. However, Seppuku boasts an impressive, feature worthy cast, including emerging star Akemi Look, a former member of the U.S. Rhythmic Gymnastics team, who has the appropriate athleticism and stubborn intensity to convincingly portray Mari.

Tamlyn Tomita (Look’s co-star in the ridiculously underseen Unbidden) is totally believable and ultimately quite touching as Mari’s long-suffering mother Linda and Tomita’s Karate Kid II co-star Yuji Okumoto buttresses the film with his solid, dignified presence as her father, Thomas. It is always great to see them, but in this case, their grounded performances really help anchor the symbolically-charged Seppuku.

Short film-making is usually an adventure in scarce resource allocation, but cinematographer Ernesto Lomeli really makes the desert scenes look cinematically surreal. This is definitely a feature-quality short and the twenty-five-minute running time should be sufficiently long enough for most viewers to emotionally engage with it. Recommended for psychologically expressive, socially-conscious cinema, Seppuku screens this Saturday (2/18) during the 2017 Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival.