Japanese Title: パレード
Release Date: February 20th, 2010
Running Time: 118 mins.
Director: Isao Yukisada
Writer: Isao Yukisada (Screenplay), Shuichi Yoshida (Original Novel)
Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Karina, Shihori Kanjiya, Kento Hayashi, Keisuke Koide, Maho Nonami, Terunosuke Takezai, Renji Ishibashi, Natsumi Seto, Midoriko Kimura,
The great existentialist thinker Jean-Paul Satre once said something along the lines of, “you can never truly know another person,” with the view that everybody is hiding behind a false mask. Nobody is genuine, everybody is playing a character, projecting a persona to hide their Jungian shadow, their real self, and so it is here with a group of young flatmates sharing a 2LDK apartment in Tokyo.
They are a diverse bunch of young people. There’s a health-obsessed man named Naoki (Fujiwara) who speaks English and works for a film distribution company, Ryosuke (Koide), a somewhat sweet slacker student pining after his best friend’s girl, Kotomi (Kanjiya), an aspiring actress awestruck and in love with a TV star, and Mirai (Karina), a haughty heavy-drinking bellicose beautiful blonde-haired illustrator who loves hanging around gay bars.
They live together and may even have feelings for each other but find their lives invaded by a mysterious golden-haired stranger named Satoru (Hayashi) who takes up residence on their sofa just when a number of brutal murders have been committed in a nearby park…
The film takes place in the recognisable milieu of urban Japan with backstreets, hotels, markets and bars being the locations that the characters hang around in. A lot of the action takes place in the interior of the apartment that the characters gather together and loll about in.
The narrative is split up into chapters dedicated to characters but everything takes place in chronological order and so we feel the experiences.
At first the atmosphere of the film has the feel of something like a slacker comedy as we see the balmy summer days of a bunch of oddballs sharing the flat. The slow rhythm of the film’s scenes gives it a sense of ennui and aimlessness they have. They vaguely push their way through their lives and half-heartedly get involved in some aspects of the world around them. Ryosuke and Kotomi lounge around their apartment speculating about whether the people next door are running call girls, head to pachinko parlours and pursue paramours who may not be as interested as them. The more straight-laced housemates Naoki and Mirai seem like they have their lives far more in control with regular work routines but the two head to gay bars to relax, Mirai drinking to excess. It is only the murders’ on the news which disturbs this amiable bunch but they watch the unfolding urban horror with a level of indifference as they continue to puzzle over little things in their lives and engage in strange wanderings.
A sense of mystery arrives with Satoru and these murders. Both the characters’ and audience seem to anticipate some connection between the crimes and this blonde-haired interloper but while the film flirts with this aspect it presents it with the same meandering rhythm as the earlier parts and frustrates expectations. A lot happens but any sense of travelling towards a conventional ending where everything is neatly wrapped up and explained is never present. Characters spout ideas, speculate and spy, reveal little snippets of their true selves and discover aspects of others but the film dances around the idea of certainty without settling on it.
Defying expectation becomes the key thrust of the film as people act and react in ways that will leave the viewer puzzled as the film gets increasingly darker.
The comedy is jolted into urban horror as we witness characters spy on each other, conduct puzzling daylight break-ins, view horrific video footage on somebody’s secret VHS, expose bruised bodies and emotions and engage in plenty of moody night time confessions. It fosters an uneasy atmosphere.
Each character has an emotional breakdown that exposes their anxiety and apprehension over life. We realise that they have no self-esteem and are dancing on the edge of a breakdown. Most worryingly, they are alone. Nobody is able to connect with each other. As the film travels to its conclusion we notice that at each dramatic point characters are around each other but despite their continuous contact and constant chatter in their small apartment none of these solipsistic people really communicate. If they do confess to the dark emotions festering in their lives but after that the characters go back to being their old selves and their problems eventually get forgotten about and talked over. Everyone goes back to playing the role they started with.
One character comments, “For people bored like us, life is less like straight lines and more like the edges of rings where we relive the same moments,” and it is on screen for the audience to see here. Why repeat the same moments? To avoid asking themselves awkward questions about the truth and face the most profound despair over trying and failing to connect with other people. Can we ever truly understand each other? We don’t need to when we play roles and hide behind masks.
Just as troubling is the sense that their apartment is like a sandpit. The environment traps these characters together. As the movie moves on, the location becomes stifling as we realise that the characters are unable to escape their inertia and gradually get sucked back into each other’s orbit, maintaining their sanity by playing their roles with their roommates shoring up perceptions by falling into line and not acknowledging the horrible truths that are revealed. It hints at how society and people can build facades and ignore what lurks underneath.
Humanity is good at ducking the truth of a situation by over-thinking or not thinking about it at all which is what these characters do. For some, reality is too ambiguous and hard to navigate and it is easier to escape into routines and easy answers that deaden one to the world. Parade shakes up these nerve deadening routines and ends on a point of ambiguity and that’s what makes it special.
I saw this one at last year’s Japan Foundation Touring FIlm Programme. It was the last film I saw at the festival and on the day (it finished after 10:30). I saw it with fellow movie blogger, Alua, and we were both agreed that it was the most memorable film because it was so thought-provoking.
Novelist Shuichi Yoshida is a name connected to many major films released over the past five years. His books are the source of films about the darker side of urban living in Japan, often delving into lives blighted by crime and profound loneliness. He has written some emotionally brutal tales that dissect modern day maladies of the soul, dark obsessions and perversions prompted by base human desires, lack of empathy, media manipulation and an uncaring patriarchal society that discards the “weak”. The films are often dark, sometimes devastating, and usually bleak. I have reviewed many of them.
The Ravine of Goodbye (2013) was a scorching tale of rape and its disastrous effects on the victim and perpetrator. Villain (2010) was a tale about two painfully lonely people who discover love only for a murder of a girl to threaten their happiness. On the more positive side is the bittersweet The Story of Yonosuke (2013), a film where characters tell their stories about a genuinely nice guy named Yonosuke and the positive effect he had on them. Parade (2010) is ostensibly less hopeless but that feeling is very misleading. The director bought the rights to the film but waited ten years for the right cast to come along to bring it to life. This decision is a good call because a likeable bunch of actors who provide complex and likeable and ultimately flawed and uncertain characters.