Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Japan Cuts ’20: The Murders of Oiso

Kazuya Ito and his three goony “friends” are your basic kick-down kind of guys. Their job is basically to do mild thuggery and some occasional hard labor for the construction company owned by Ito’s uncle. He runs the town of Oiso, much the same way he ran their high school when he was the basketball coach. However, they are rather confused by the power vacuum left by the boss’s suspiciously sudden death in Takuya Misawa’s The Murders of Oiso, which screens as part of the Japan Society’s Japan Cuts Festival of New Japanese Film (all virtual this year).

Ito is the one with the family connections and he is not about to let the other three forget it. Eita is the one with the attractive girlfriend. This is also a fact Ito is keenly aware of. The entire town is in for a surprise when Ito’s uncle dies falling on his lawnmower (sounds painful). It turns out he secretly remarried a much younger woman, who now expects the condolence money and her inheritance.

With “Murder” in the title, Misawa’s film sounds more thrillery than it is. It is more of a deconstruction of the thug life than a mystery or crime procedural. It’s about sucking up and doubling-down. Misawa’s elliptical narrative structure is so coy about the actual crimes and sins going on behind closed doors, it is hard to feel much investment. We can respect the rigorous severity of his aesthetic approach, but the net effect is rather cold-blooded.

Likewise, the twenty-ish cast clearly commits whole-heartedly, but they blend in more than stand-out as the mumbling, self-loathing, and embittered toughs. These are honest, but not necessarily showy performances.

also holds the distinction of being a Japanese-Hong Kong co-production—we should probably clarify that as a pre-“National Security Law” abrogation of “One Country, Two Systems” Hong Kong co-production. In fact, producer-co-editor Wong Fei-pang directed one of the stories in the prophetically-dystopian anthology Ten Years (the experimental one), which is a film everyone should see—now more than ever. His commitment to edgy storytelling (like Misawa’s) is admirable, even when its style comes at the expense of clarity.

Regardless, we should all hope Wong and company can continue to collaborate with Misawa (and whoever else they might wish) for years to come. This is definitely bold but often maddening auteurist filmmaking. Recommended for self-identifying cineastes,
The Murders of Oiso screens virtually through tomorrow (7/30), as part of the 2020 Japan Cuts.