Saturday, July 13, 2019

Fantasia ’19: His Bad Blood

Even shallow film critics will be tempted to invoke the scripture passage about the “sins of the father” when reviewing this stark Japanese moral drama, but there is a good chance they won’t fully understand it. The full quote suggests God’s mercy is greater and more just because he does not hold a father’s transgressions against his son, but men often do. They certainly have in Shinichi’s case. Thirty years after he vanished, the emotionally damaged young man will try to get some closure from the low life father he never previously met in Koichiro Oyama’s His Bad Blood, which had its international premiere at the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

While his mother was in the hospital delivering Shinichi, his father Hiroshi was absent. His plan to abscond after stealing from her family was interrupted by Shinichi’s moralistic uncle, but he disappeared just the same. That left the innocent Shinichi to serve as the target for all their scorn and recriminations. When their rural community is hit by a rash of break-ins, they assume it is Shinichi and expel him from his home. Fortunately, his mother arranges for him to stay with the kindly Reverend Genichiro. He does not judge Shinichi, but he does not allow him to simply lay about either.

As fate would have it, Shinichi’s deadbeat dad also takes refuge with the good Rev, after one of his small-time cons catches up with him. Initially, Rev. Genichiro keeps their true identities secret, but the truth soon comes out. Of course, their new relationship will be far from perfect. In fact, it might even cause Shinichi more pain.

Bad Blood is an unremittingly dark film, but it is also a highly moral and humanistic one. Arguably, it represents the road largely not taken by Evangelical cinema, presenting a complex but genuinely harrowing portrayal of sin and betrayal. Although evil deeds are not always punished during the course of the narrative, nobody watching the film will want to be anything like Hiroshi or his accomplices.

Ikkei Watanabe’s performance as Hiroshi is fiercely domineering and often downright chilling. In contrast, Yu Toyama plays Shinichi as such a damaged, beaten-down soul, he is often in danger of practically melting into the woodwork. However, the film really gets its spirit and its bite from Akio Kaneda and Keiko Koike, who are both quite remarkable as Rev. Genichiro and Shinichi’s third act girlfriend, Lin.

Frankly, Rev. Genichiro might be the most sympathetic presentation of a clergyman in a mainstream narrative film since Letters to Father Jacob. That was a Finnish film from 2010. This is a Japanese film hitting the festival circuit nine years later. You do not have to be very devout to find that a sad commentary on Hollywood values. Regardless, His Bad Blood is a challenging film featuring some excellent ensemble work. Highly recommended, it had its international premiere at this year’s Fantasia.