蒲田前奏曲 「Kamata Zensoukyoku」
Release Date: Autumn 2020
Duration: 115 mins.
Directors: Ryutaro Nakagawa, Mayu Akiyama, Yuka Yasukawa, Hirobumi Watanabe
Writers: Ryutaro Nakagawa, Mayu Akiyama, Yuka Yasukawa, Hirobumi Watanabe (Script)
Starring: Urara Matsubayashi, Kotone Furukawa, Kumi Takiuchi, Ren Sudo, Sairi Ito, Mayuko Fukada, Noa Kawazoe, Ryutaro Ninomiya, Ryutaro Kondo,
Receiving its world premiere as the closing film of the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020, Kamata Prelude is an omnibus movie split between four different directors with four distinct styles separated simply by an edit and a change in visual approach. Each director is part of a new generation of talent from the Japanese movie industry and this mix of approaches ensures a change of pace occurs often enough to keep interest in the film high.
Keeping all of these disparate elements together is the depiction of the life of a struggling actress named Machiko who lives in Kamata. Portrayed by Urara Matsubayashi (lead actress in The Hungry Lion), the film’s producer, she is the centre of these stories each of which depicts her learning what it means to be a “woman” and an “actress” in contemporary Japanese society through showing the behaviour and perceptions of those who surround her. Comic, dramatic, all sorts of emotional hues are touched upon.
The first segment is by Ryutaro Nakagawa who has attracted attention ever since Plastic Love Story (2014) all the way through to his latest work Silent Rain which was screened at both the 2019 Busan International Film Festival and Tokyo Filmex where it won the Audience Award. He brings his signature ethereal style for a story that starts off as a naturalistic depiction of the disruption of a close sister-brother relationship portrayed by Urara Matsubayashi and Ren Sudo as Machiko and Taizou respectively. When Taizou introduces his girlfriend Etsuko (Kotone Furukawa) to Machiko, a falling out seems to be on the cards as Machiko is floored by this news. That’s not what happens.
Initially jealous of the woman, Machiko gradually opens up to the possibility of a relationship as she gets to know Etsuko. Kotone Furukawa essays Etsuko as someone who is innocent and charming, like an angel untouched by mortal desires but desperate to experience them. Through this attraction to simple delights, the film takes on a melancholy magical-realist hue as the girl becomes a supernatural presence, seemingly becoming a being from another time as revealed through Furukawa’s recitation of poetic dialogue, revisiting a “sister”, her costume changes, and a day out with Machiko punctuated by a litany of regrets and sequences full of beautiful visuals to end on a mysterious note.
The second story is from director Mayu Akiyama, whose debut work, Rent a Friend, won the MOOSIC LAB Grand Prix and was screened at the Tokyo International Film Festival 2018. Her film is thoroughly modern as it features a collection of popular actors usually cast in supporting roles who portray career-minded women who seemingly have it all. As Machiko and her friends talk about their lives it becomes clear they hide their everyday struggles and anxieties behind bravado and, when they head to an onsen in Kamata, they shed their clothes and also the lies they tell to make themselves look better than they actually are.
Although the story is tied up nicely at the end, there is a deeply uncomfortable atmosphere linked to notions around loneliness and an interrogation as to whether a woman can really have a career and family in a patriarchal society and what sacrifices are made. A collection of great performances bring the characters to life, the standout being Sairi Ito (Love and Other Cults) as a straight-talking friend named Hana who is able to bring about clear thinking with her direct, cynical and honest attitude.
Story three by Yuka Yasukawa offers commentary on gender relations via #MeToo and is probably the most bracing part of the movie, a pointed entry into a subject of great interest to many people and told with sophistication as it offers a variety of female and male characters to give different interpretations of the issues as brought out in acting that ratchets up in intensity for a dramatically tense situation.
This section is built around an audition process involving a panel of guys getting women to talk about actual experiences of sexual harassment. The guys display varying shades of altruism and the very misogyny they wish to pick apart in their film. Of the ladies, only two actors are able to stand out, a woman named Kurokawa, and Machiko, both of whom are asked to act out a traumatic experience. Reality and fiction crash together for everyone in the room and this is brought with force to the screen by Kumi Takiuchi (Grateful Dead) as Kurokawa who just absolutely nails the anger and frustration that is felt by a woman who has been treated so poorly she can no longer constrain those emotions under the cruel treatment of the casting team. Her body language and dialogue delivery are intense and searing and the ending is a downbeat one.
How does one continue this film from that moment of almost hopeless anger? Pick the most idiosyncratic director going.
From debuting with his indie movie, And the Mud Ship Sails Away (2013) to his last movie, Cry, which won Best Director at the Tokyo International Film Festival 2019 in the Japanese Cinema Splash section, Hirobumi Watanabe has created a cinematic world centred around the rural parts of his native Tochigi Prefecture. His films are shot in black-and-white and feature friends and family and here he manages to work Machiko’s life into this world.
While Machiko doesn’t physically feature in this one, the action takes place in her hometown of Otawara where Riku-chan, Machiko’s cousin, takes part in a sci-fi movie shoot that is made tough due to a demanding director, played Hirobumi Watanabe himself. Here, Watanabe comments obliquely on the art of acting and uses Riku to show the pure innocent adulation for movie-making.
This parody of a film set is done in the inimitable style of Hirobumi Watanabe who uses dry humour to lighten the mood and this relieves the tension felt from Yuka Yasukawa’s movie, allowing audiences to end the movie by revelling in dreams rather than the hardships. It provides a welcome ending to the film, especially as he has a cast of cute kids to win over audiences and remind them of the fun that can be had in collaboration, imagination and shooting movies.
When the final credits role, there’s a definite sense that the whole product works and provides a good overview of Machiko’s life, her career and personal travails, hopes and dreams, and those faced by a variety of women of her generation. The wealth of characters, tones, styles and stories allow for plenty of other opportunities of engagement in this fresh-feeling film that captures contemporary times with brightness.
Here’s my interview with director Mayu Akiyama and producer/star Urara Matsubayashi.