Release Date: N/A
Duration: 86 mins.
Director: Masashi Komura
Writer: Masashi Komura (Script),
Starring: Rina Ono, Yugo Mikawa, Katsuya Kobayashi, Masumi Nomura, Kenta Kiguchi,
POP! is part of the line-up of MOOSIC LAB 2020-2021. Like entries in the film festival’s previous editions, it pairs together up-and-coming movie and music talents so that they can create a film where music plays a large part in the proceedings, whether through being performed on screen or through a soundtrack that is a very prominent part of the film. In practice, while the fest may feature a slate of films that share similar themes or story set-ups, since each work is coming from different combinations of creatives, the results tend to be unique and a good showcase of the strengths of all involved.
While many of the last round of MOOSIC LAB releases pondered mortality, they each did it in a completely different way, from a laugh-out-loud supernatural mockumentary to a hip-hop infused family comedy, a heart-breaking time-slip movie done through cassette tapes to a gentle post-rock Lynchian adventure. Some are simply music videos stretched out to 30 minutes. A glance at MOOSIC LAB 2020-2021 shows that it is no different as each film looks tonally different with dramas and comedies, some pushing into the experimental and surreal, words which could be used for POP!.
Making his debut feature with this POP! is Masashi Komura, a relatively new filmmaker who has worked on a number of projects including co-writing the screenplay for The Man Who Was Eaten, which was featured at Osaka Asian Film Festival 2016, writing and directing the 2017 film LEO, and appearing in Ken Ninomiya’s The Matsumoto Tribe (2017). His script and direction for POP! create a quirky coming-of-age tale of a young woman experiencing existential drift as she stands on the cusp of adulthood. The final result is a mixed bag of ideas and one that requires patience but it certainly has an atmosphere.
The story taps into a crisis of confidence experienced by Rin Kashiwakura (Rina Ono). She is a wannabe actress who is about to turn 20 years old but has already lost sight of her dreams. A pre-title sequence shows her as a high schooler flopping at a movie audition before fast-forwarding a couple of years where she now works part-time as an official mascot on a struggling local TV charity program called Tomorrow’s Earth and part-time at a remote mountainside car park where an older co-worker leaves all of the tasks to her. Both jobs look unfulfilling in different ways – most noticeably through the way she finds it difficult to interact with the seemingly indifferent or sex-obsessed adults around her – and her joie de vivre is clearly on the wane, a situation exacerbated by her personal life where she only has an Amazon Echo for companionship. Just as she begins to wonder about her career, she begins to question if she will ever find love.
And so Rin finds herself stuck in a rut as she struggles to fit in with others while her sense of purpose wanes and nobody seems to care. Change, however, literally explodes into Rin’s dull days as she witnesses a serial bomber in action as he is in the middle of a campaign of planting bento box bombs around her city. Blown out of her inertia, she begins to track the sites of the bombings and discovers that they form the shape of a heart once they are all put on a map. Her encounter with this mad bomber inspires her to question what she wants to do with her life as she approaches adulthood but answers are not all that easy to come by…
Pop! takes its time to wander through Rin’s existential crisis as she wavers between being an adult and a teen. The film is built upon patterns of repetition and variation that are used to show how Rin is worn down by stultifying interactions and also how she gradually pieces together enough confidence to move forward through seeing the examples of those around her.
Now, this may sound like a backhanded compliment but Komura’s film nails that sense of confusion and lethargy that comes with an existential crisis as Rin tries to find her way in life with few markers to provide direction. Komura paints a broad picture where very few things seem connected, from dating to bombings. At times it feels like Pop! is a film in search of a purpose due to the lack of forward motion established by constant plot progression, the seeming randomness of events that seem to run alongside each other rather than mesh together, and the film’s meandering pace but, eventually, the story ties up in the end with a touch of magic.
Audiences may be split as to whether it works but the atmosphere is strong and some surreal moments and comedic characters make it engaging. Its seeming randomness and slow pace lulls one into a sense of longing, angst, and frustration, those emotions felt strongly in adolescence and so it relates Rin’s experiences. Visually, the film is engaging and there is plenty of symbolism such as a broken-down car in the car park being symbolic of Rin’s life being stalled and the ironic distance between Rin’s heart-shaped costume and her lack of confidence. The camerawork is noticeably strong at points such as the use of close-ups to exert tiredness and exhaustion. Lead actor Rina Ono – who I last saw in On the Edge of Their Seats – is likeable in the central role of Rin and relates her character’s uncertainty in a restrained performance given touches of comedy as she has to react to some surreal moments but gradually finds confidence in herself.
As is fitting for a MOOSIC LAB film, the soundscape well crafted. Here it is ideal for an existential crisis, its listless atmosphere created with the aid of the lo-fi hip-hop of DJ/producer Aru 2 who provides sleepy beats that allows the film to drift along to. So, while this film may seem like it is lost at times, it only mirrors the character’s progression in the story and there is satisfaction at the end as she is able to overcome her crisis and accelerate into adulthood with confidence and Aru 2 providing some positive beats that are uplifting and help make the ending feel rewarding.
Here’s more of his work: to give you a taste: