Saturday, February 20, 2021

Slamdance ’21: Code Name: Nagasaki

This happens to be a documentary, but it also proves genre filmmaking can be therapeutic. Fredrik S. Hana and his good pal Marius Lunde made several short films together, with Hana directing and Lunde in front of the camera, but for their first feature, they documented Lunde’s efforts to find his birth mother in Japan. It is an emotional process for Lunde, whose doubts and angst are distinctively represented by mini-genre-vignettes in Hana & Lunde’s Code Name: Nagasaki, which screens during the (online) 2021 Slamdance Film Festival.

Lunde’s memories of his birth mother are hazy at best, because he was only five years-old when she returned to her native Japan without warning, leaving her Norwegian family behind. He still had a reasonably happy childhood, but her absence still left a void. Years later, he hires a Japanese private investigator to track down his mother. With Hana along for moral support and his cameras to record the moment, Lunde prepares for a trip to Japan, even though he is not sure whether he will be welcome when he arrives.

Periodically, Hana and Lunde also go back to their roots, staging film noir, J-horror, and Chanbara samurai interludes that express Lunde’s states of mind. They all look so cool,
Code Name: Nagasaki is sure to inspire a surge of interest in their previous shorts among festival patrons.

Yet, more than a love letter to movies or a poignant family story,
Code Name most memorably serves up an endearing portrait of friendship. From time to time, we see Hana offering Lunde quiet encouragement—and it is always quite touching.

Lunde and Hana somewhat soft pedal their climax, but that is classic Scandinavian reserve for you. Regardless, there is still plenty of payoff. It also looks great, thanks to Hana & Lunde’s inventiveness (who share credits as production designers, set decorators, costume designers, and prop masters) and Christer B. Runde’s stylish and stylistically varied cinematography. Highly recommended,
Code Name: Nagasaki screens through Thursday (2/25), as part of this year’s Slamdance.