Sunday, May 24, 2020

CFF ’20: Being Natural

What is the most destructive invasive species? Probably the hipster yuppie, especially when it is trying to go “back to nature” and partake of “locally grown” organic food and produce. Takashi, the luckless slacker, will discover this the hard way when an ambitious hipster family moves to his sleepy provincial village in Tadashi Nagayama’s Being Natural, which screens (virtually) as part of the (online) 2020 Chattanooga Film Festival.

Things start off slow and quirky, but sensitive genre viewers may still pick up on a vibe that is hard to place. Takashi has long served as the caretaker for his dementia-addled uncle, living in his family’s traditional wooden home. Initially, said uncle’s merciful death spells potential eviction for Takashi, but his cousin allows him to stay on and even employs him at his local fishing pond.

Unfortunately, the Kurihara family starts disrupting his peaceful existence as soon as they move to town. The mother, Satomi, intended to open an organic café, but her lease for an old fashioned minka house location fell through. Of course, Takashi’s home would be a perfect replacement.

Being Natural starts off as a quiet slice-of-life comedy, but without warning, it takes a very dark turn. As the resulting injustice mounts, it down-shifts into overt genre horror territory. It is all quite shocking, but somehow everything seems to make sense in the moment. In fact, one could even argue the film is unexpectedly timely, reminding us of current controversies regarding charges of sexual impropriety—and how Joe Biden would deny due process protections for anyone accused on college campuses, while hypocritically demanding the American people to extend those courtesies to himself.

Regardless, the whiplash effect of Being Natural might put off some viewers, but they are exactly what make the film such a wild ride. Nagayama and co-writer Yoriko Suzuki really have some crazy stuff in store for us. Being Natural also boasts a wonderfully deadpan performance from Yota Kawase, as Takashi. He is a profoudly nebbish sad sack, but he still has a weird on-screen charisma. Likewise, Kanji Tsuda and Natsuki Maeda are subtly creepy and just generally off-putting as Keigo and Satomi Kurihara.

Frankly, some of the previous reviews for Being Natural are so off-the-mark, it makes you wonder if they saw the same film. It is hard to see the film as a commentary on “xenophobia” and it certainly will not encourage anyone to start buying organic produce. However, it definitely slams the do-as-I-say environmentalism of urbanites. Highly recommended for its acerbic satire and bold stylistic mood swings, Being Natural screens virtually (through 5/25) during this year’s Chattanooga Film Festival.