Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Japan Cuts ’21: School Radio to Major Tom & Go Seppuku Yourselves (shorts)

It is sort of like Love Letters for geek culture, but it is an analog throwback, which makes it cooler. Two lonely high schoolers collaborate on a radio drama, despite never meeting. Yet, a connection is still made in Chisaka Takuya’s short film School Radio to Major Tom, which screens on-demand as part of the experimental shorts package offered by this year’s Japan CutsFestival of New Japanese Film.

Those who attend this high school during the day and those assigned to the night shift rarely meet. It is a hard-and-fast social division, but Eisuke Hoshi doesn’t really fit into any cliques. His primary activities involve his solo stewardship of the school radio. As a result, he is quite surprised when his night-time counterpart discovers the tapes of his science fiction serial and starts recording the part of Major Tom in her own voice.

Technically, Takuya never quotes from “Space Oddity” verbatim, but he paraphrases it all over the place. If it was a rights issue, the Bowie estate is being short-sighted, because this is the most potently nostalgic film they could ever hope to have showcase his tunes.

Even though they do not share any proper scenes together, Chka Arakawa and Tokuma Kudo are both terrific as the young radio programmers. It is hard to precisely describe their relationship, but they definitely make it into something.

Fittingly, the film’s grungy VHS-looking really suits the 1989 setting and the analog media that plays such a role in the film. Strictly speaking,
School Radio is a teen drama, albeit a rather mature and wistful one, but the science fiction story the characters spin (heavily Bowie-influenced with maybe a touch of Space 1999) gives it extra genre appeal. Very highly recommended, School Radio to Major Tom screens as part of the experimental shorts package (even though it is totally accessible) during this year’s Japan Cuts (and it also screens on-demand with It’s a Summer Film! at Fantasia.

Seppuku is serious business. A samurai like Raikan does not entertain it lightly—nor in his case, voluntarily. He is being railroaded, but he is not going quietly in Toshiaki Toyoda’s
Go Seppuku Yourselves, the third of his politically charged short film trilogy, which screens on-demand as part of the shorts showcase package offered by this year’s Japan Cuts Festival of New Japanese Film.

There is a plague wreaking devastation in Edo-era Japan. Seriously, where doe Toyoda get his ideas? Demons are mostly likely to blame, as the
Onibaba looking mask ominously suggests (so much for “science”). However, the corrupt authorities are looking for a scapegoat and the blunt-spoken Raikan fits the bill nicely. He doesn’t have much choice in the matter, but for his last words, he calls out all the venal politicians who have mismanaged the crisis, in no uncertain terms.

Go Seppuku mostly consists of that calling out. Think of it as the samurai version of Al Pacino’s climactic speech in Scent of a Woman, but without the “hoo-ahs,” Jack Daniels, and the happy ending. Toyoda and cinematographer Kenjin Maki give it a big, cinematic look, but the film is still largely built around a monologue. There is a reason why this is a short film rather than a feature.

Still, the combination of Toyoda’s anger, the Chanbara trappings, and its proggy, experimental rock soundtrack, appropriately including the band Seppuku Pistols (who were heard on the soundtrack for Toyoda’s
Wolf’s Calling) make for the pretty potent cinema. Recommended for Toyoda fans and those who appreciate allegorical jidaigeki, Go Seppuku Yourselves screens as part of the shorts showcase package, during this year’s Japan Cuts.