Shady かしこい狗は、吠えずに笑う (2013)

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Shady                                   Shady Film Poster                                         

Japanese Title: かしこい狗は、吠えずに笑う

Romaji: Kashikoi Inu wa, Hoezu ni Warau

Release Date: June 22nd, 2013

UK Release Date: March 24th, 2014

Distributor: Third Window Films

Running Time: 94 mins.

Director: Ryohei Watanabe

Writer: Ryohei Watanabe (Screenplay)

Starring: mimpi * β, Izumi Okamura, Isao Nakazawa, Gota Ishida, Ayumi Seko

One would be forgiven for thinking that the Japanese film industry has resorted to producing nothing more than big-budget adaptations of novels, books, and anime and retreads of tried and tested formulas. Original ideas are still alive and kicking, particularly in the indie scene, but sometimes hard to track amidst all of the noise that the bigger releases produce. When an original indie film does make a splash, word spreads quickly over the internet. “Shady” is a prime example.

The first post fellow blogger Alua made for 2013 contained the trailer for this film and I commented on it stating that I liked it. I kept an eye on it and finally got to see it at last year’s Raindance Film Festival and let me tell you what a surprise it was.

The setting is a familiar one, a girl’s school. The students inside seem familiar as well. Our protagonist is Misa Kumada (mimpi * β). Because of her last name “Kumada” (bear + rice paddy) and her appearance, Misa’s high school classmates call her “Pooh” disparagingly.

Shady Misa Kumada (mimpi)

She regards herself as ugly and does her best to keep a low-profile so school bully Aya cannot torment her.

She’s the only member of the science club and eats in science lab alone because she lacks friends. She does have animal friends. Her pet parrot named Chunta and the science club goldfish named Kintaro.

Life is dull but attempting to solve a math problem in front of her class brings Misa to the attention of Izumi Kiyose (Izumi Okamura), the prettiest girl in school and a popular classmate, who notices Misa struggling at the blackboard.

Izumi is bad at mathematics as well, so she hands Misa an answer sheet for a forthcoming test which she got from manipulating a teacher.

Shady Izumi (Izumi Okamura)

Misa then finds herself quickly becoming best friends with Izumi. Although somewhat puzzled by Izumi’s interest in her, Misa is excited about having a friend for the first time ever. But Izumi’s initial angelic demeanour gradually transforms…

“Shady” is a surprise. A pleasant one. It is the directorial debut of Ryohei Watanabe, a screenwriter by trade, and it was made on a modest budget of £10,000 and a lot of the actors performed for free. You would not be able to tell that these were the circumstances from the final cut of the film. The directing, editing, sound design, soundtrack and the acting are all pitch perfect and  so good, they make the film look like a bigger budget and classier release.

I imagine that Watanabe is extremely well-versed in films for this is a demonstration of filmmaking from a fine cineliterate mind. It is post-modern in the way it mixes genres like the school romances of Shunji Iwai and the dark female psychological dramas of Roman Polanski, Michael Haneke and Francois Ozon and yet it never feels derivative. The final result is something wholly original. A striking and exciting, gripping and dramatic film that renews a viewer’s faith in the creativity bubbling away in the independent Japanese film scene.

What makes another person change is another person

The power of the film is in the fact that the actors are so good they could be seasoned pros and the script is humanist, full of the rich character development that, together with the acting, embeds the viewer in the life of the film.

The film is structured as an extended flashback and builds up an emotionally rich picture through its events. Whatever happens in the film, the audience is rooted to events because Watanabe has created characters we care for. So much depends upon the performances of the two lead actresses, mimpi * β and Izumi Okamura who dazzle.

Misa is a typical outsider – not dark, violent, or rebellious but quiet and distant. mimpi * β plays her as a person familiar with disappointment, always on the outside and quite capable of accepting her circumstances because they are all she knows. She enters most scenes with her head bowed, her eyes nervously scanning the halls and classrooms, physically huddled as if expecting the world to throw something at her and she only lets her guard down when around her pets.

Genki-Shady-Misa-(mimpi)-Riverside-Thoughtfulness

Then she meets Izumi.

Genki-Shady-Izumi-(Izumi-Okamura)-Stalks-the-Halls

Izumi is relentlessly smiley happy, the sort of sunny person who sees the best in life despite being bullied like Misa. She has stepped into the shade at times by being a little dangerous but is ostensibly fun and bubbly and willing to share herself with Misa. At once an equal and approachable yet worldly, wise in some of the arts of feminine power and mysterious, she is ready to take Misa’s hand and lead her down paths sometimes dark, sometimes fun.

Misa’s response is halting at first. Can this girl really like me? Misa soon embraces her and Izumi provides her with new experiences. Misa’s constant frown gives way to smiles when she hears her phone ring, she runs and shouts, she begins to open up about her emotions and talk more and it is a joy to behold because the kid needs some joy in her life.

Genki-Shady-Misa-(mimpi)-Peeks-into-Class

Clearly Izumi is the first person to offer the kind of friendship and intimacy that she cannot seek from her parents no matter how much they may dote on her. What’s more, Izumi needs her as well. Izumi is a victim of bullying and she is alone. She needs Misa as a friend and confidante, someone true to cling to so together they can laugh at the rest of the world. They are soon together, hand in glove. This makes both Izumi and Misa happy.

I do this because I love you

The scenes between Misa and Izumi detail the sort of close bonding teenager’s desire  like the gossip, buying and making gifts for each other, make-up sessions, secrets told, opinions sought, and general larking around after school. The acting has the sort of intimacy that makes their growing relationship absorbing.

The direction is so precise it captures this intimacy with great fineness. The pacing of the film maintains the gentle rhythm of change and remembrance of fond memories, the camera weaves in and out of classes and corridors, patiently watching the characters eating, talking, thinking and so captures those little human moments that build and maintain relationships. The looks shot across classroom, smiles when a gaze is caught, the surprise and joy when something unexpected and nice happens and they think about each other. What makes it heart-warming is that we know this is Misa’s first taste of it in high school, that Izumi is opening up her horizons and together they reach new levels of happiness that the bullies can never touch. Could this intimacy be enough for either girl?

Dinner-by-the-Pool-in-the-2012-Japanese-Film-Shady

For Misa it is more than enough. She now knows that the gap between herself and everybody else can be bridged, she can be accepted by others and her world grows bigger than the classroom but for Izumi there is a darkness inside her which her smile hides. She needs Misa to fill in a void and give her some stability. We get glimpses of it in scenes, snatches of dialogue, her messy home life, the “mature” things she does and the way she becomes possessive.

It’s natural to want to keep something close to yourself if you love it

To reveal anything more of the story is to ruin it. Things happen in the second half but even when found out the pleasure and emotions of it remain in a second and third viewing. What also remains and grows more apparent is the skill of the writer/director Ryohei Watanabe.

“Shady” is so confidently shot, so well put together you would not know it was Watanabe’s debut. Forgive me for throwing in film jargon in the next few paragraphs but every technical aspect is perfect.

The script uses the audience’s familiarity with genre to wrong-foot it (much like what happens in the Korean film “Motherwhich I reviewed last week). The script builds layers of detail to initially conform to and then defy our assumptions even past the point when a normal film might allow audience’s sight of the ending. You won’t see what’s coming. I was astounded and gripped by the events that unfolded on screen. It reminded me of what emotional involvement a skilled writer can weave.

On top of writing an excellent script and getting excellent performances, Watanabe ensures that sight and sound are God-tier in perfection.

Director Ryohei Watanabe on the set of Shady

The world we see and hear is reality and yet some carefully chosen elements add a strange but understandable touch of the surreal and hyper-reality which makes proceedings more intense and gripping.  

The emotional information necessary for the film to work is delivered faultlessly through camera angles and editing which are rigorously chosen. There is not a moment of downtime or a wasted shot. Medium shots and close-ups contain the sense of intimacy and we feel comfortable intruding on the girl’s private time but it changes into something far more uncomfortable as their behaviour morphs over the course of the story. The details are all perfect – the bicycle that Izumi has is bright red, eye-catching like her, like the way she is an extrovert, dangerous. The film’s score is stellar with a mix of heart-breaking songs, lithe piano melodies and heart-racing discordant electronic soundtrack all of which were created or worked on by lead actress mimpi * β. My favourite scene has to be a tracking shot as the girl’s ride their bicycles.

Genki-Jason-Jitensha-Shady

It is the high point of their relationship, it is a scene full of freedom and joy. The actors sail along through a field, the landscape wheels by and the soundtrack soars. It allows the audience and actresses to breath and feels exhilarating. Another scene I adore is Izumi cornering Misa during class. A seemingly innocuous question takes on dark and ominous overtones as Izumi repeatedly clicks her ballpoint pen, rough electronic music swells up as the camera zooms in on her smiling face.

It is all stirring stuff and it made me feel emotions that did not subside until the end of the film. Even hearing musical cues or watching the trailer will dredge them up. To call this the most impressive début in Japanese film of 2013 does not quite do enough to describe how talented Watanabe is or how good this film is.

A film like “Shady” simply must be seen. It will grapple with your emotions and when the lights are put on in the cinema you will breathe a sigh of relief and want to discuss the plot, the way that Watanabe creates meta references to other films, dupes us into watching a narrative that refuses to follow traditional paths and ends on a rather unsettling note. You will want to discuss how he always finds a way to disrupt meaning and the way the actresses are so perfect in their roles that other actors or actresses could not do what they did. You will want to compare “Shady” to other school films or relationship dramas and probably find them lacking in some way. You will want to discuss “Shady” and re-experience it to confirm what you just saw.

This is why “Shady” was the best film I saw in 2013.

5/5

Shady” is released at the end of March by Third Window Films. You can purchase it from Amazon. Expect more posts on this film.

Shady DVD Case

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22 thoughts on “Shady かしこい狗は、吠えずに笑う (2013)

    1. I highly recommend it. I consider it one of the best cinema experiences I have ever experienced and I’m so pleased I saw it on the big screen. I found every aspect of it is perfect as my review states.

      I re-watched it on DVD and it still retains its power. It’s beautiful to watch and listen to, it’s got characters you can care about and it is simple despite having complex characters. It builds layers of life and there’s so much to enjoy!

  1. I’m intrigued. Fantastic review as always and make me want to see it.
    Wished I saw this review before I left for Japan… got to go to several video shops but most of the DVDs or Blurays I wanted (Wolf Children!) didn’t have any English subtitles 😦

    1. I’m glad you liked it. Some might find it easy to get disillusioned with Japanese entertainment because all of the adaptations of anime/manga/books makes it look increasingly unadventurous, increasingly aimed at NEETs and commercial as hell but then a film like this comes along that blows away a viewer.

      That’s a surprise to learn that The Wolf Children didn’t have English subs. They seem to be creeping in to Japanese releases. Are there any decent anime distributors in the Philippines?

      1. Sadly, there are no legitimate anime distributors here. I won’t say that there’s a shop with a lot of pirated subtitled anime series, movies and J-drama because that’s just wrong. It also doesn’t have Wolf Children, Woodsman and the Rain and The Cure… not that I asked. 😛

      2. That’s very frustrating. A lot of countries around Japan and in South America pirate popular shows mercilessly. Japanese companies need to make their films and dramas more easily available online.

    1. It’s a little indie gem that deserves to be widely seen. Hopefully you do get the chance because it’s great and for people who grew up on J-dramas and movies from the likes of SHunji Iwai, it will have a lot of resonance with what you have viewed in the past. 🙂

  2. Awesome movie… Even though everyone was really praising the movie, I didn’t thought I would like it so much. Never been so worong. The actresses’ performance was perfect and the last 30 minutes… Mind numbing! Really looking forward for more movies from this director! 🙂

    1. You are so right! Those last 30 minutes were really gripping! I was totally on edge and haven’t been gripped like that for a long time! The acting and directing were pitch-perfect.

      I’m glad you liked it!

      1. Yeah! That’s when te movie took it to a whole new level… it became awesome without straying far from reality. It made me restore my faith in JP movies; they were somewhat lackluster, recently (specially on the plot department).

        I’m glad I found this site too, it’s great! Thanks for helping us fans of japanese/asian cinema =D

      2. I just watched some more of the movie and the extras on the Third Window Films release and I like Shady even more.

        I’m glad you like my site. I’m trying to get more film reviews completed after some anime posts and Cannes coverage so keep checking back. 🙂

  3. akb48fan

    Finally got a chance to see Shady and I can see how it came to be your favourite movie of 2013. It’s fantastic and such a gripping psychological drama. It works as a depiction of teen loneliness and infatuation but also as a portrayal of homocidal lunacy. Excellent acting from the 2 main leads. Overall I thought it was a taut, involving and disturbing movie which I really enjoyed.

    1. It’s good to see that you liked it because you’re a veteran J-cinema blogger and know your stuff! We’re pretty much on the same wavelength with this title which has all of the things you describe and the powerful performances from the two leads. Even now, I’m still writing and talking about the film and I’m excited by the prospect of seeing more work from everyone involved!

      Are you going to do a review?

  4. Absolutely haunting film- I watched it before I went to bed and next morning when I woke up I was still thinking about it LOL. I’m just wondering, what do you make of the ending? *SPOILER* SPOILER*

    Do you reckon Kumada’s personality warps into one like Izumi’s? Or do you think that ambiguity shows that well, Kumada’s account (seeing how the story is related from her in detention) might not be all that we think it is?

    1. I think this is an example of brilliant filmmaking and I’m glad others are watching it. I keep thinking about certain scenes as well.

      SPOILERS

      I think Kumada’s personality has changed. Her encounter with Izumi has had such a profound effect on her that she turns into a predator of sorts.

      1. Yeah I’m definitely buying the DVD, although I’m not sure if I can find one for my region.

        *SPOILER*

        And yeah that makes sense! Kind of how like those sexually abused at a younger age have tendencies to sexually abuse in the future x_x.

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