A New Wind Blows 新しい風 Dir: Yutaro Nakamura (2021) [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

A New Wind Blows  A New Wind Blows Film Poster

新しい風 Atarashii Kaze

Release Date: April 29th, 2021

Duration: 66 mins.

Director: Yutaro Nakamura

Writer: Yutaro Nakamura (Screenplay)

Starring: Yutaro Nakamura, Hikaru Saiki, An Ogawa, Takaya Shibata, Yujiro Hara,

OAFF

A New Wind Blows was one of two films by Yutaro Nakamura at Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021. An actor, writer and director, these films mark his ninth and tenth efforts in the director’s chair. While his other work Sweet Bitter Candy was a standard drama, A New Wind Blows presented an intriguing indie youth story that mixes the dreams and madness of teens in Tokyo in a narrative with some darkness and a lot of optimism.

The film opens with on-screen text asking, “What kind of future, if any at all, can we picture?” This sets up the malleable nature of the narrative where fantasy and reality blend together.

We are introduced to our characters in the next cut, a shot of a riverbank where two callous highschoolers, Yujiro (Yujiro Hara) and Hikari (Hikaru Saiki), laugh mockingly over a misadventure with a little person and proceed to torment a teen named Takaya (Takaya Shibata) by stealing his football and reducing him to tears before handing it back and walking away. A witness to all of this is another high schooler named Anzu (An Ogawa) who looks on sympathetically at Takaya while he cries. These are most of the characters with whom we will spend the rest of the film with.

A hard cut seemingly takes us into the future where the characters are now in their 20s and are about to meet again. It starts at a bar somewhere in Tokyo on New Year’s Eve. Hikari has spent a day hanging out with an admirer, Kotaro (Yutaro Nakamura, the director himself playing the “little person” referenced by the teens at the start) and the bar is their latest stop. With the Covid-19 pandemic ongoing the last trains home have been cut leaving Hikari and Kotaro stranded. This is the moment Kotaro chooses to confess his love and that results in an awkward moment where Hikari doesn’t reciprocate. This gets broken up with the reappearance of Yujiro who has become an Uber Eats delivery driver.

With no place to go (no karaoke booths or 24-hour internet cafes open???), Hikari wrangles a roof for the night with an old roommate who turns out to be Anzu. When the trio arrive at her cramped place, they are greeted by Takaya who is feeling ornery over the presence of these outsiders.

If the characters have grown in years, their fundamental natures haven’t changed and so Yujiro’s bullying nature comes out as he torments Takaya and physically pesters Anzu. Takaya responds with increasing levels of hostility until a breakdown happens again. And so, a tumultuous night full of quarrels leads to a truly bizarre New Year’s Day as everyone busts out of the claustrophobic apartment and on to the streets of Tokyo.

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As we watch the characters act out their New Year’s Day – shrine visits as part of hatsumode and dealing with the hangover from the previous night’s conflict – the film teeters between normality and insanity. Characters are reborn with new personas and don bizarre fairy costumes and they careen around suburban neighbourhoods in dissociative acts and scenes of chaos that confuse our senses.

Director Yutaro Nakamura goes further and breaks the fourth wall by allowing himself to become the butt of height-based jokes in farcical fight scenes and through adding what feels like personal observations about how people treat him on the basis of his height through scenes of Anzu’s inappropriate mollycoddling. The addition of cute on-screen illustrations and nursery rhyme style music by Akari Machi (with lyrics sung by An Ogawa that reference the action) add a fairy tale air to proceedings and a sense that none of this is real.

While this is a comic film darker notes constantly creep in, first in how the absurd actions of characters continually lead to a combative atmosphere in relationships, later in the sight of a suicide and Takaya’s multiple mental breakdowns and the sense of hurt characters experience when dealing with each other. Healing comes through Kotaro who chaperones Hikari through a cold night and day and who offers the mentally unbalanced Takaya a kind ear and it is through these acts of kindness that the film finally finds sense in an irrational narrative as normality is gradually restored. Following this, the interactions between the characters take on a sort of therapeutic role-play for Takaya and Kotaro, two “victims” of the teens in the opening and a new start initiated for all.

The film still maintains an ambiguity as to what is reality or what could be imagined because, structurally, there are scenes that disrupt the plot to suggest a dream-within-a-dream format which resets everything. However, concrete gains are suggested as the characters repeat actions but seem to grow as they show a capacity for empathy at the end. The final images offer a sense of boundless possibility as the teens are lined up shoulder to shoulder to look directly at the viewer and they smile. A sense of equality and openness can be felt. At the end, I liked to think that those kids who met at the riverbank thought deeply about their futures and decided to be more humane but it could equally be true that all of this was dreamt up but at least possibilities to be better still remain and for that, we should be thankful. Indeed, the film remains slippery but even the final moment is positive as people exchange feelings based on respect.

The experience of watching this can be filled with uncertainty, much like life, but it ultimately feels as if the film uses its fictive frame to treat the problems of the characters and grasp at the hope of people learning to understand each other through empathy and understanding and uses the tools of cinema playfully usher in feelings and expressions.

It may be shot in an understated way with static camerawork in normal settings but there is nothing uncaring about proceedings. The rhythm and duration are perfect so it never outstays its welcome and the actors stick to the mood even when the film indulges in absurdity and violence. As dark as it gets, the film is carried by a gentle tone and a lack of pretentiousness that allows rib-tickling humour and gasp-inducing tragedy to flow on and off the screen while constantly subverting our expectations. As such, the film is always engaging to watch and that final minutes of the film were beautiful and hopeful.

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