Hana Dir: Mai Nakanishi (2018) Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019

Hana    Hana Film Poster

Running Time: 13 mins.

Release Date: 2019

Director: Mai Nakanishi

Writer: Mai Nakanishi (Screenplay), 

Cinematography: Jun-sang Lee 

Starring: Jeong-bi Lee, Hee-Jin Jean, Do-Eun Kim,

Website IMDB

This is a re-write of my review that was published on V-Cinema a month ago. Corrections and a bit more thoughtful analysis were made as well as references to favourite directors. I want to see more from Mai Nakanishi.

Hana is a Korea-Japan co-production from newbie director Mai Nakanishi. Originally from Tokyo, she has spent much of her career abroad working in various roles on a wide range of international projects including working as an assistant director for Eric Khoo and as producer for Sion Sono. Nakanishi has also worked as producer on the Japanese segments for the horror anthology ABCs of DEATH 2. Most tellingly, she is a founder and director of Scream Queen FilmFest Tokyo, the only female-centric genre film festival in Asia. In short, she is a horror fan, and when she was selected by the Busan International Film Festival to be a fellow at the Asian Film Academy 2016, she produced this short film under the mentorship of the world-renowned Taiwanese master Tsai Ming-Liang. The final product is very much rooted in horror, her favourite playground, and is an effective short.

A home is a reflection of who lives there and how it is decorated and lived in says a lot about a person and how they want to shape their lives (which is why it can be terrifying entering one if you stop and think about it long enough). Couple that idea with the existential one of how we can never truly know another person, pressures and desires and all, then someone seemingly normal can actually be stranger than imagined which is what happens in this neat horror short.

At first glance, the apartment that Su-jin, a new babysitter, enters seems innocuous enough. White walls, spartan in terms of furnishings, clean, a few pieces of high end furniture. Blank. It’s perfect for some executive who spends more time in the office and her client is a businesswoman. However, this is the place where she has gone for a part-time babysitter interview so eagle-eyed audience members may wonder where is the child’s presence?

The first person Su-jin meets is Mrs. Lee, a hard-working single mother who needs a babysitter to look after her four-year-old daughter Hana. She is desperately looking for someone to take care of her child and it seems Su-jin is a last resort. Mrs. Lee is dressed in a fancy suit and her manner is all brusque and business-like, something probably honed from her life being a constant whirlwind of activity. She is in a rush so Su-jin is hired on the spot to start right away and, despite a strange warning from Mrs. Lee to look after her daughter, everything seems normal but soon after Su-jin is left alone with Hana, spooky things start to happen…

The best way to describe this film is to use the word austere. OAFF 2018 screened Ordinary Everyday (2017) which was an atmospheric experience due to the excess of style where every aspect of sound and visual design was used to maximum effect to create a unique psycho-thriller. Hana is the opposite as it works with a minimalist set, sound-design and visuals so this modern apartment, seemingly visited by de-cluttering expert Marie Kondo, becomes alien through slight changes to the environment and in the soundscore. Like a Kiyoshi Kurosawa film (I’m thinking Pulse or Loft), Mai Nakanishi focuses on her controlled use of camera placement and keen observation for effect and these are enough to raise the level of creepiness and tension as they capture things happening around the protag. A door swings open slowly, a creepy illustration on Hana’s bedroom wall, the sound of a child on the move, a bed sheet with a human shape etc.

Mai Nakanishi’s script has Su-jin run after Hana and investigate in a logical fashion which gives the character believable behaviour in such a situation even if the audience is primed for shocks. However, what is unexpected is the shock at the end as we discover that this apartment is a scene of a tragedy.

The film is very controlled in its initial storytelling but eschews screams for pathos at the end as it offers a pointed commentary on parenting in competitive capitalist countries like Korea where, in order to get ahead, one must cut ties to anything that gets in the way of a career and that includes family. Busy Mrs Lee is certainly the subject of a haunting and this hangs around her like a guilty conscience. Ultimately. perhaps the scariest thing about the film is how mother and child cannot be separate but also cannot be together…

Whatever the case, this is good for 15 minutes with a satisfying gauntlet set up in the environment for the babysitter to run around in and a fitting denouement but Nakanishi is currently working to turn Hana into a feature with prominent arthouse auteur, Eric Khoo.

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