Romaji: Kirishima, Bukatsu Yamerutteyo
Japanese Title: 桐島、 部活 やめるってよ
Release Date: August 11th, 2012 (Japan)
Running Time: 103 mins.
Director: Daihachi Yoshida
Writer: Ryo Asai (Original Novel), Kohei Kiyasu, Daihachi Yoshida (Screenplay)
Starring: Ai Hashimoto, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Suzuka Ohgo, Mayu Matsuoka, Motoki Ochiai, Masahiro Higashide, Kurui Shimizu, Mizuki Yamamoto,
High school is a universal experience for a lot of people and a very popular setting for film and anime. Japan is especially good at creating high school, especially when one considers the dominance of clubs in high school life¹. Many stories look deep into the nature of relationships and the way people socialise and deconstruct various aspects to capture high school life and all of the ephemeral emotions adolescents have as this treasure of a film demonstrates.
The story starts on a Friday when news that the popular high school volleyball star player Kirishima has quit the team is broken to various people.
Shockwaves are sent through the school’s social world with Kirishima’s handsome and equally popular best friend Hiroki Kikuchi (Higashide) left bewildered by the few facts that emerge, Kirishima’s socially popular girlfriend Risa (Yamamoto) angry, and the volleyball team in a panic ahead of a big game with the less capable Koizumi Fuusuke (Taiga) taking Kirishima’s pivotal libero position and getting scared by the pressure to live up to Kirishima’s performance leel.
Also affected, but indirectly, are the rest of the students who see the results of the revelation of Kirishima’s disappearance like badminton players Kasumi Higashihara (Hashimoto) and Mika Miyabe (Kurumi Shimizu), the less popular kids in the culture clubs like Aya Sawashima (Ohgo) a brass band musician with an impossibly earnest crush on Hiroki, and the president of the film club Ryoya Maeda (Kamiki) and his assistant director Takefumi (Maeno).
The story ends on a Tuesday when some of the students find themselves having crossed social boundaries and redefined themselves while others remain steadfastly in their mind-set.
The Kirishima Thing was the big winner at the 36th Japan Academy Prize Awards taking Picture of the Year, Most Popular Film and Director of the Year awards. It is based on a similarly named high school novel written by Ryo Asai who worked on adapting the book’s omnibus story framework into a film which has resulted in a non-linear narrative that covers all sorts of people who witness different things from different perspectives.
At first the film builds audience interest in the Kirishima thing, why he quit and what he will do. His name is constantly said like a mantra by characters and despite never being on screen his presence hangs heavy, ghost-like, haunting everyone who is puzzled by his disappearance. As well as being the lynchpin of the successful volleyball team we discover he was the focal point of a lot of relationships.
This isn’t the story of Kirishima and his reasons for quitting but the story of the students surrounding him. It ranges from the popular students in the sports clubs all the way through to the unpopular students, the nerdy members of the culture clubs. Without him the ties that bind people start to fray. Friendships are revealed to be hollow, personas deflate and the social world of high school, which means everything to most students, is exposed as being nothing more than a house of cards and people have to decide what is important to them.
As the film wanders through various small incidents, big existential questions are forced upon the student and it all rings true which is where this film/coming-of-age drama works well.
Nothing feels contrived because the film’s locations and narrative structure reflects the realities of the self-absorbed and school-based adolescent life.
The film’s locations are limited to ones high school students will know intimately. It takes place almost entirely in classrooms, corridors, gym halls and behind bike sheds and only dips into a cinema or coffee shop briefly on weekends. This builds up our familiarity with the social stage the teens are on and is also perfect for providing many physical entrances and exits and windows into scenes allowing us places to observe them like voyeurs. The camera constantly wanders down corridors tracking people who mingle with friends, mid-shots are used for classroom confrontations to capture the stares of onlookers and the intense feelings people feel in such confrontation, and close-ups capture the uncertainty as characters explore their own emotions.
In terms of narrative structure the audience gets snatches of events from different perspectives which create a disjointed worldview. The loose-limbed narrative is a great way to cover various perspectives and a hook that makes the audience pay attention to the behaviour of the characters which is what the film is interested in. The individual characters themselves are stuck with their blinkered views on life and we see how disconnected and cruel they can be and how inadvertently ridiculous their actions are and how they change at the end.
Many characters are defined by their clubs which come to dominate their lives. Everybody outside of their respective circles is not worth paying attention to unless they can turn their emotions into something entertaining for themselves. Risa and her gang dismiss Ryoya Maeda and his filmmaking aspirations, mocking the title of his film and whispering insults just within earshot² of him. Aya Sawashima, a dedicated musician, deliberately practices her saxophone on a school roof to attract the attention of Hiroki without realising that she has become a bit of a spectacle for everyone else, disrupting their day. Hiroki Kikuchi is so caught up in the turmoil of his own feelings that he fails to notice how others feel about him. With Kirishima’s absence the facades of characters start to crumble and their true characters are revealed to be unpleasant.
What makes this compelling is that while the characters are partly archetypes they are individual enough and you can relate to them. Risa is not just some air-headed beauty queen, the sudden disconnection she suffers from the person she has built her image around has left her floundering and the situation brings out her natural cruelty. Kasumi and Mika are desperate to conform and hide their true feelings for two guys who aren’t alpha-males to stay in with the cool clique and Aya, who seems to be aping the actions of a shoujo manga, has to negotiate the realities of real life romance with its moments of high hopes and profound disappointment.
When the film ended I felt a sense of connection and satisfaction. It does not sugar-coat teen experiences or sensationalise them but presents a set of relatable characters. Some will carry on being blind and basing their personalities on others, some will have grown stronger at the end, others will realise that they cannot continue acting out false roles. What is certain is that the momentum of youth will carry them along and their experiences, if remembered, will be looked back on with a rueful smile and a shake of the head and, like most people who survive high school, you can imagine them thinking, “Did I really act like that?”
¹ Students tend to pick one club and activities can take place after school nearly every day. There are two streams of clubs: sports (kendo, badminton, volleyball) and culture (science, filmmaking, photography). These clubs provide an opportunity for socialisation and create the senpai (senior) and kohai (junior) relationships which makes the slash-fiction world of anime spin. (Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education)
² Every time a girl opened her mouth I was reminded of the line, “Girl talk is scary” that Hikigaya Hachiman came out with in My Youth Rom-Com.
A lot of recent anime have deconstructed the high school myth rather intelligently:
Aku no Hana mixes the existential angst and teen melodrama of being in a small town.
My Youth Rom-Com focussed on what it was like to be an outsider in high school and to pursue that life-style.
Watamote is a tragic psychological horror/comedy about a girl’s desperation to be popular.