花と雨 「Hana to Ame」
Release Date: January 17th, 2020
Duration: 114 mins.
Director: Takafumi Tsuchiya
Writer: Takafumi Tsuchiya, Takahiro Horieta (Screenplay), Takafumi Tsuchiya, SEEDA (Original Album/Work)
Starring: Sho Kasamatsu, Ayaka Onishi, Chihiro Okamoto, Ozuno Nakamura, Kyohei Mitsune, Mari Hamada,
Tokyo-based rapper SEEDA used his life to inform his hit 2006 album Flowers and Rain and he goes a step further as all of this forms the basis of this autobiographical film which exhumes some painful memories to show how he made his first album which was informed by his life of crime and his sister’s own struggle.
The film begins in media res with the main character beat up pretty bad before he explains how he got to this point.
It is the 90s and brother and sister Naoto (Sho Kasamatsu) and Saki Yoshida (Ayaka Onishi) have moved back to Tokyo after a spell living in London. Their time abroad has broadened their minds but made it difficult for the kids to fit into Japanese society. They tough it out, Saki focusing on her education and Naoto finding a refuge in Hip-Hop. Their routines soon become a way of life for the two as she struggles to make progress and he tries out being a rapper in the underground scene. Despite his interest and burgeoning talent, Naoto starts a side-hustle in dealing drugs which disappoints Saki and gets him mixed up with serious Gangstarrs…
The film neatly sketches out how the siblings feel like Outkasts in Japan with visual and verbal clues such as Naoto’s terrible kanji/kana handwriting and his lack of confidence rapping in Japanese while Saki’s continued use of English and endless failure to move up the career ladder haunts her. An interesting dynamic is set up between the two as supportive siblings but he begins to drift away as the emphasis of the script then shifts to the crime and as Naoto experiences the Lifestylez ov da Poor and Dangerous and Mobbs Deep with some yakuza and scuzzy gaijin to sell cannabis, other elements of the film get pushed to the side.
Indeed, the entirety of the middle act is almost entirely dedicated to how he became Street Struck and even took an Up North Trip as he forgets his family and goes all the way to the Pharcyde and while the emphasis on crime grants SEEDA his street bonafides, it also fits into a theme of the film which is his struggle finding his own voice as a Japanese rapper (from a well-to-do family, no less) instead of imitating the negative parts of a culture that comes from the streets. He idolises the style rather than understands the culture and as he’s seen biting the style of Americans with little critical analysis of where that style comes from and how it fits into Japanese society. It’s an interesting commentary.
As engaging as this narrative thread is, the crime overtakes Saki’s story which I felt was just as affecting thanks to Ayaka Onishi’s strong acting in the few scenes she gets. It could have been explored more but we understand that she proves to be the catalyst that helps him make the leap to a rapper worth listening to when he finally Entas Da Stage. One other criticism is that the focus on crime takes vital time away from SEEDA’s musical development which we see very little of.
Essentially, we don’t get to see Sho Kasamatsu rap. Although the film is about how he found a way to fit into Japan through rap music, the journey is told and not shown. People talk about him changing his style but we never get a real sense of his style to begin. We get the references to Nas (the album Illmatic makes a number of appearances) and a few posters to other rappers, but we don’t see how his inspirations have shaped his rapping. Furthermore, we don’t get a coherent overview of the wider Japanese Hip-Hop community.
SEEDA’s musical development is reduced to a montage of him in a recording booth, writing lyrics, bopping his head to beats. It isn’t until the film is a third of the way through that we see him try out a half-hearted freestyle and when he steps into the cypher for rap battle, it fizzles out so we still don’t get a full idea of his talent even though others talk about it. We listen to characters critique him instead of being able to see his development and so it feels like the few scenes of his rapping are perfunctory. Indeed, there is not much of a triumphal concert to cap things off but a poignant moment nonetheless.
That written, what is on screen is always coherent and the narrative makes sense and flies by as it ensures we know his inspirations for his music even if we never see him actually blossom into a wordsmith. Perhaps it would be easier for someone who is familiar with Japanese rapping to see the progress in rhyming that Naoto made and perhaps fans of the album will have more context.
Overall, it presents a solid story of a person finding their voice even if a little too much emphasis is placed on the crime whilst neglecting SEEDA’s artistic efforts and Saki’s stress. The direction is nice and cinematography glossy and the acting does ensure that the story is somewhat moving. A shout out has to go to the subtitler for getting the slang down.
This one is available for people to watch around the world