Release Date: August 07th, 2020
Duration: 71 mins.
Director: Ryo Anraku
Writer: Ryo Katayama, Ryo Anraku (Script),
Starring: DEG, Ryo Katayama, Ryo Anraku, Hyoma Shibata, Hiroki Sato, Ritsu Ootomu, Mebuki Yoshida,
Winner of the Best Actor and Musician Award in the feature film category of MOOSIC LAB 2019, Tailwind was shot in just three months by up-and-coming indie film makers Ryo Katayama and Ryo Anraku. Their story is based upon shared real-life experience with their friend DEG, a hip-hop artist whose friendly persona and musical performance fits perfectly into both this youth drama and the MOOSIC LAB mantra of combining filmmakers and artists.
28-year-old Tokyo-based rapper DEG is struggling with his career and feeling frustrated. A decent rhyme-smith, his songs lack fire since the lyrics are inoffensive (and maybe even a little bland) to win listeners over and so he isn’t making any progress beyond friend’s parties and izakaya gigs. His affability on the mic is reflected off the stage as he masks his frustrations and disappointments behind his smile. Any inconvenience, insult, or disagreement from someone is met with a big grin and a laugh and so he is suffering on the inside while others advance their lives and move on without him, sometimes at his expense. However, with his frustrations mounting DEG’s smile begins to fade and his inner voice beings to emerge. When he is invited to a friend’s wedding which Hikari, the love of his life, will attend, he decides to use the event as the catalyst for him to realign his personal and professional personas and make his own tailwind and seize his own happiness.
Last year I reviewed the film Flower and Rain, another based-on-reality tale of a young man seeking to establish his identity and doing it through hip-hop (after lengthy digressions in crime), and, despite that film’s bigger budget and ambition, I found that Tailwind is actually a more moving story as the main character is much more relatable and we get a better view of how his personal life informs his artistic struggle and vice versa.
DEG’s inner emotional turmoil and his self-perception is easy to relate to as it comes out in his lyrics and via interactions with those in his web of relationships. This is a cast of characters such as friends and family, fellow musicians, music video directors and dancers, all of whom are advancing or struggling in their own careers, all of whom are more honest with their emotions, and all of whom offer direct advice to DEG that helps to inform his character arc. They all have the feeling of being drawn from real life with the naturalistic acting of the cast – that some people on the screen are already friends probably informs this – and there is the sense that each character is given just enough depth to feel like they live independent lives while they also add useful behavioural and career contrasts to DEG’s character.
The direction and editing are good – clean and efficient, smooth flowing. Not a moment is wasted and the choice of using a lot of close ups really puts the focus on DEG who is skilfully able to channel great depths of his emotions. We see his concentration as he is writing lyrics and understand his dedication. The false smile that lights up his face and falters at times of difficulty is highlighted and so the stark contrast when he drops the smile powerfully shows the difference between the façade he presents and what he truly feels. Probably the most electric moment is when he teams up with a guitarist named Fujimoto and does a four-minute freestyle that flows powerfully, the lyrics relating to what we have seen him experience. It feels like his character is finally coming out of his shell and also the rawest moment of self-expression from DEG after seeing him cover his emotions up for so long. It hits harder because it is done in close-ups so we see the emotions on his face as he rides the beats and tears fall down his face. It adds to the building sense of drama that becomes attached to his performance at the wedding at the end where the film reaches its climax and he displays his most honest performance in front of friends and family. DEG definitely deserved that acting award.
One aspect of this that did feel heavy handed was the use of a child to personify DEG’s inner feelings (or maybe a sense of betrayal of childhood ideals) – it’s a mental projection that looks on sadly and apologises while DEG laughs. It felt like a gimmick and excessive when placed against the well-written script, the acting, and direction, all of which are strong enough already.
Overall, the film is moving. The most important thing the film imparts is DEG as a person and performer. We see how his life informs his lyrics and how, as he evolves, they become a guide for character development as well as the urgent words of a man with a sense of his own worth. The eventual catharsis of seeing him overcome his inner turmoil at the wedding is well earned. The open ending leaves a bittersweet and realistic sense that his journey is ongoing.