colorless 猿楽町で会いましょう Dir: Takashi Koyama (2020)

colorless  colorless Film Poster

猿楽町で会いましょう  Sarugakuchou de aimashou

Release Date: 2021

Duration: 122 mins.

Director: Takashi Koyama

Writer: Takashi Koyama, Yu Shibuya (Screenplay), 

Starring: Ruka Ishikawa, Daichi Kaneko, Shuntaro Yanagi, Sakurako Konishi, Ikuma Nagatomo, Hitoe Ookubo,

Website IMDB

colorless is the directorial debut of Takashi Koyama. He adapted the winner of 2018’s Unfinished Movie Trailer Grand Prix MI-CAN, a competition where filmmaker’s can win a cash prize based on a trailer around 3 minutes. He makes a tragic love story involving two people who are drawn to Shibuya’s fashion culture. The resulting story is cynical, slightly cliched but lifted by the performers while the technicals convey the glitz and glamour of the district.    

A young blonde-haired guy named Shuji Oyamada (Daichi Kaneko) is struggling to make it as a fashion photographer but when an editor throws him an assignment taking profile shots of a struggling amateur model named Yuka Tanaka (Ruka Ishikawa), he finds his muse and the love of his life. She is pretty, coquettish, and appears to be one of any number of ingénues drawn to Shibuya. Her glittering façade and good looks are seemingly uncomplicated but audience members will probably be waiting for a twist to emerge as they watch Shuji fall hard for this girl who we guess is truly too good to be true. 

After the initial set up and breathless romance experienced by Shuji, the narrative switches to Yuka’s perspective and penetrates what is behind the façade of the young woman by going back in time a few months to when she first arrived in Tokyo on a night bus – a cute girl from Niigata who is cash-strapped, alone and desperate to be a model – to how she got into the fashion game and how she funds her career – sugar-daddies, shady massage parlours, and one honest part-time job at a clothing store. This secret history detailing the dark and exploitative side of the entertainment industry forms a series of tense moments in the latter part of the film as it teases if Shuji will discover Yuka’s mistakes and dump her.

Throughout the torrid emotional romance, the film keeps sight of their careers with Shuji’s on the rise thanks to her portraits which capture his naïve and loving view of her. Yuka’s struggle is the more heart breaking.

Colorless Yuka Tanaka (Ruka Ishikawa) and Shuji Oyamada (Daichi Kaneko) 2

Audiences will initially build the impression that Yuka is a maven who picks up knowledge she can use to further her career while also being someone who is unafraid to use her body and the casting couch to get ahead in what seems like a textbook case of “it isn’t what you know but who you know”. However, more time spent with her reveals a young woman who is from a broken home and is clearly operating in the big city without a plan. Opportunistic, yes, but this behaviour stems from her naïveté and an ill-defined sense of self as demonstrated by her inability to network effectively and the way she falls prey to predatory males because she confuses love, lust, and career progression. Her career mistakes run parallel to another girl who works hard but also knows how to play the game and so we get a taste of the pressure and pitfalls that girls going into entertainment face.

This pressure builds to a poignant ending as Yuka’s persona cracks and crumbles on screen as she realises that she has no inner core – hence the colorless of the title. In this role, actress Ruka Ishikawa is magnificent. As with her performance in the gently surreal short Stay (2019), she is able to alternate between moments of vivaciousness and doe-eyed cuteness to a clinginess that, in the more complicated moments, goes from disarming to cloying and even erratic. These are transitioned to naturally but the more disturbing  moments are the vulnerability she shows when having to explore her own character, a haunted expression masking her face. So, at first glance, her acts seem sure to seduce men but Ishikawa shows how this simple reading isn’t enough. 

Colorless Yuka Tanaka (Ruka Ishikawa)

Nobody comes out of this looking good, with the men being sleazeballs operating in an industry that lures the young and naïve while Shuji himself is complicated by displaying troubling behaviour as he displays a possessive and aggressive nature towards Yuka when she fails to return his affections with similar strength. The negative industry stuff is obviously heightened for dramatic effect, although the moments of prep on sets have the feeling of reality.

The film benefits from its setting which allows familiar narrative avenues for exposition – casting calls where Yuka can reveal her background, exploring a lover’s apartment and asking questions, rivalries that come to a head on a film set – while the depiction of how participants in the entertainment world work their way up and are sometimes forced into sex work is believable. The setting of Shibuya itself is used but its rarely the big avenues and hyper-fashion districts and more the backstreets and alleys. The film’s title Sarugakuchou is a district where down-at-heel apartments are located behind the endless parade of brand-goods stores and it should provide something of an insight for outsiders as to what it is really like living in the centre of Tokyo. Indeed, this taps into the difference between the public mask and the private life as shown in the revelations of Yuka’s character and the glimpse of sex work and exploitation. The film has a glossy, high contrast look that is perfect for the fake ad-world of Shibuya and Shuji’s experience of romance. 

8 thoughts on “colorless 猿楽町で会いましょう Dir: Takashi Koyama (2020)

  1. lontong.stroong

    I’ve been hearing a lot of great hearsay about this movie. Definitely would check it out soon.

    Speaking of under-the-radar indie movies in recent years, I would also recommend Terrolun and Lunlun, which I think you haven’t reviewed yet. A bit on short side (around an hour), but the premise and execution is interesting and unique. It used to be screened in Tokyo last summer and I managed to watched it, but I think you can still catch it up in some minor theaters. Too bad no news about its online release yet.

    1. Thanks for the comment!

      I have watched Terrolun and Lunlun but I haven’t reviewed it yet. I remember being moved by it, especially when the two characters, who are already ostracised, face further persecution. The ending I can remember quite clearly.

      Yes, it is a solid drama and it would be good to see it get wider coverage. If I get another chance to watch it, I’ll definitely review it. Stay tuned to this blog because I’ll be covering more Japanese indie films!

      Also, if you have access to Amazon Prime, some of Ryutaro Nakagawa’s films are on there. They are definitely worth checking out.

      1. lontong.stroong

        You can check the movie’s official Twitter: https://twitter.com/terrolun_lunlun , they routinely update the screening theaters.

        About the released Nakagawa Ryutaro’s work, I’ve seen some of them but the one particularly stuck in my mind is Watashi wa Hikari o Nigitte Iru (I Grasp The Light/Mio on The Shore). It discusses a lot of things from ever-increasingly diverse Tokyo to decaying but vibrant old district to rather senseless gentrification from very unique perspective. He’s definitely one I’ll keep an eye on.

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