Last Judgement / Saigo no Shinpan 最後の審判 Dir: Shinya Kawakami [Osaka Asian Film Festival / Japan Cuts 2019]

Last Judgement / Saigo no Shinpan    Saigo no Shinpan Film Poster

最後の審判 Saigo no Shinpan

Release Date: March 02nd, 2019

Duration: 29 mins.

Director:  Shinya Kawakami

Writer: Shinya Kawakami (Screenplay)

Starring: Ren Sudo, Miru Nagase, Asuka Kurosawa, Kiyomi Aratani,

Website     IMDB

New Directions in Japanese Cinema (NDJC) is a programme that has been in operation since 2007, it’s purpose being to help foster talented young filmmakers through workshops and the production of 30-minute narrative shorts, shot on 35mm film, with the help of experienced professionals. The resulting works are given screenings across Japan and at major festivals. I had covered their films in old trailer posts¹ but had never seen a whole programme until this year…

It was coming up to the end of the 2019 edition of the Osaka Asian Film Festival and there was a screening of this year’s NDJC titles early one morning. I was quite eager to see them and was truly thrilled by the final title, Final Judgement (Saigo no Shinpan) by Shinya Kawakami which is, hands down, the best of the bunch.

Inaba (Ren Sudo) is a talented artist who has tried and failed the entrance exam to Tokyo Art University many times. He is on his sixth attempt and has decided to make this year his final challenge. As he prepares to paint a portrait to pave his way into the institution, a very gifted rival named Hatsune (Miru Nagase) appears amidst the students and her unconventional methods and tremendous vision creates a work which roars with energy and snares the attention of everybody including their tutors. Inaba is incensed by this girl (who is still in school, no less!) but, at the height of his anger he takes a left turn and invites Hatsune to a cafe to find out how she is such a great artist…

Art is communication. No film in the NDJC 2019 line-up illustrated that as much as Saigo no Shinpan, a 25-minute cinematic firework display which uses a lot of editing and audio techniques to give a simple story – one ronin student’s desire to get into an elite Tokyo art university – a propulsive and all encompassing feel that lights up the cinema’s screen with meaning. The story is basically a back-and-forth between what is in the protag’s headspace and the reality around him.

Saigo no Shinpan Film Image Ren Sudo

Throughout the film a whole load of techniques are used to convey the character’s psychology and it’s an exciting run from the first scene to the last as the use of sharp editing and camera movement produced a story, at once comedic and intense. The heat is on during painting sessions scored by fierce and percussive jazz music and the image in the frame sways and blurs, the audio drops out of sync with the visuals, the commentary Inaba’s inner voice becomes cracked as the pressure gets to him.

Inaba’s overblown sense of himself is perfectly shown in the fourth-wall breaking moments when he directly addresses audiences and in flashbacks intercut into the narrative along with short and succinct family scenes (featuring Asuka Kurosawa (Cold Fish, Snake of June)), all of which creates a collage of information that dabs different colours of complexity into Inaba’s character and his motivation so he goes from conceited to sympathetic.

Four of the five NDJC 2019 films deal with the theme of fathers in some way but this is the only one that doesn’t belabour the theme or feel trite. The deployment of flashbacks mixed with the exciting art action happening in the present show the hard road Inaba has travelled to even approach the university and it creates a portrait of the conceit he carries borne by desperation and love and how it is at risk of collapse in the face of Hatsune’s genius. 

Saigo no Shinpan Hitome Nagase

None of this would be truly compelling without the lead performances of Ren Sudo and Miru Nagase who are perfect as Inaba and Hatsune.

Sudo displays his character’s abilities with passion whilst also deliberately making some moments of his arrogance slightly cartoonish to help create the dramatic atmosphere his character is caught up in and also give sufficient height his character will fall if he fails. Miru Nagase is a new name and she effortlessly essays a nonchalantly cool wunderkind  who acts as a perfect diametric opposite to Inaba’s arrogant try-hard and she also has a lovely and natural comedic ability to set off needling questions that helps the protagonist grow.

They both have forceful personalities but balance each other out and the ending is satisfying as it shows that the two talents have their futures in their hands.

Director Shinya Kawakami has made commercials and video productions at different companies and has won awards. Here, he tells a familiar story but utilises the NDJC set-up to show off the range of effects cinema has. A lot of information is conveyed with imagination and a fast tempo thanks to the aforementioned music, and visual tricks with additional smash cuts and match cuts that make transitions between different scenes super-exciting. The affect it had on me was like a jolt of caffeine that made me sit up after the previous four films on the programme. Expect to see more of him.


¹ Names that are associated with the NDJC programme include Momoko Fukuda (Slowly, Interview with Momoko Fukuda) who has developed her NDJC 2016 short, Dad’s Wedding, into a feature that will be released later this year. Then there is Sung-ho Moon (5 Million Dollar Life – featured at NYAFF and released this coming weekend in Japan) who was featured in 2014.

Here are old trailer posts with NDJC Coverage:

NDJC 2018

NDJC 2016

NDJC 2015

NDJC 2014

NDJC 2013

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