街の上で 「Machi no Ue de」
Release Date: April 10th, 2021
Duration: 130 mins.
Director: Rikiya Imaizumi
Writer: Rikiya Imaizumi, Hiroyuki Ohashi (Script),
Starring: Ryuya Wakaba, Moeka Hoshi, Kotone Furukawa, Minori Hagiwara, Seina Nakata, Ryo Narita, Hirobumi Watanabe,
Very rarely the setting of a film, Shimokitazawa is a trendy little district in western Tokyo that lies in the shadow of Shibuya and Shinjuku. Home to independent shops, theatres, cinemas, live music venues, bars, and restaurants, the place vibes with youthful energy as students, actors, second-hand booksellers, and bar owners, all with a seemingly average age of 20-something, engage in artistic revelry and nights of frolicking. It is also a place constantly changing as commercial redevelopment is ongoing – when I last visited, a new station and an adjacent department store were being constructed – and it has its quiet parts. It is a slice of Tokyo different from everywhere else in the city.
Using Shimokitazawa as his sandbox, director Rikiya Imaizumi brings us Over the Town, his latest film and his second in 2021, which is full of characters and locations you would encounter in real life.
Over the Town sees Imaizumi revisits his preferred genre of the relationship drama with an ensemble cast of rising young actresses who are assigned the roles of potential lovers around the main protagonist. With a script co-written by manga creator Hiroyuki Ohashi (whose works are the basis of hit anime Ongaku and live-action comedy Zokki), Imaizumi subverts our expectations at every turn through ensuring every relationship cruises through moments of cringe comedy.
Our “hero” of the story is Ao Arakawa (Ryuya Wakaba), a shy fellow who is pushing into his 30s and works at a second-hand clothing store where not much happens, an ideal situation that allows him to indulge in his hobby of reading.
When we first see him, he is in his apartment and being dumped by his long-time girlfriend Yuki (Moeka Hoshi) who announces, in a rather humiliating fashion, that she has been cheating on him in “every way” intends to toss him aside to try life with the her new beau. In a brilliant bit of framing, she is sat on a sofa looking down on him as he sits on the floor looking up at her. This actor placement will be repeated later for a twist and it is also an early indicator of the way Ao will be treated by others. As you will see in the story, he is quite passive (sitting down for chunks of the film) and so he becomes subject to the seemingly capricious whims of the younger women he meets.
Heartbroken, Ao retreats into a book or takes to roaming the streets of Shimokitazawa like a flaneur as he drops in on concerts, cafes, and the such to talk to friends to figure out where he went wrong and how to fix things. Reading his books is how he comes into contact with a series of young women who, much to his surprise, seem to be interested in him. First there is a bookseller named Tanabe (Kotone Furukawa) who supplies him with novels like “Kanazawa Girl,” next comes Machiko Takahashi (Minori Hagiwara), a director who recruits him for an acting role in her student film called “Sleep in Reading,” and finally comes the film’s costumier and props person Iha Jojo (Seina Nakata) who invites Ao to stay the night at her place after a shoot.
If it seems like Ao has attained his “moteki” moment where the fairer sex have become infatuated with him after a painful breakup, he discovers that their interest comes from their own complicated romantic and artistic longings and Ao just happens to be the way that they channel them into reality, he is just too naïve to realise and unprepared for what hanging out with these women will entail.
The humour that follows is of the bathos variety: Ao ends up studying hard for acting but ends up over theorising and becoming self-conscious; he does his best to charm a girl only to end up discovering a boyfriend. It starts off gentle with chuckle-inducing moments of miscommunication but the situations escalate to belly laughs as the stories progress and Ao’s awkward nature leads to compromising situations that audiences will immediately identify with.
Imaizumi’s style is restrained and realistic so don’t expect pratfalls or big confrontations. He mines the awkwardness and the humiliation of mixed signals and hurt feelings, the camera lingering on Ao’s face as he overhears himself being talked about and put down, the look of fright on his face as he is reluctantly dragged into a lover’s quarrel, and, most painfully, the way he retreats from the spikiness of Machiko’s character which reveals itself as she finds his acting poor.
While this is a comedy, the characters have enough depth to allow it to reach for pathos as the women reveal their true natures, and maybe a little misguided longing for Ao. They remain independent and believable, as if drawn from the crowds you see in Shimokitazawa, and also they are in on the joke that is Ao’s love life which, it turns out, is more of a trifle than a tragedy.
These episodic encounters may seem separate but they gradually become interwoven via the conclusion and also via the terrain of Shimokitazawa which is caught in its many forms, from izakaya to live houses and the streets that connect them. Imaizumi employs a few tracking shots but mostly long shots to capture the area at different times of the day to give a real sense of atmosphere and place.
Over the Town delivers a lot of the down-to-earth reality of Shimokitazawa and the people who populate it. Imaizumi and Ohashi craft believable characters who are brought to life by a cast who are all pitch perfect and maintain the atmosphere well. It was a delight to go out on the town with them.
Here’s my synopsis at OAFF.