School Radio to Major Tom こちら放送室よりトム少佐へ (2020) Director: Takuya Chisaka [Japan Cuts 2021]

School Radio to Major Tom

こちら放送室よりトム少佐へKochira hoso-shitsu yori Tomu shosa e

Release Date: N/A

Duration: 10 mins.

Director: Takuya Chisaka

Writer: Takuya Chisaka (Script), 

Starring: Tokuma Kudo, Chika Arakawa,

School Radio to Major Tom was produced as a third-year training assignment at Nihon University by Takuya Chisaka and went on to win the Entertainment Award at the 2020 edition of the Pia Film Festival. One glance at its title will tip off the musically-inclined that it takes inspiration from David Bowie and it proves to be true as it draws upon his classic song Space Oddity for a short film about two lonely high school students reaching out to each other through the stars via radio.

The story takes place in the summer of 1989. For Eisuke Hoshi (Tokuma Kudo), a space-mad and shy student, his spare time is spent in the school broadcasting room recording audio dramas on his lonesome. His latest is Clockwork Moon and the main protagonist is Major Tom, an astronaut on a solo mission to save the Earth.

We watch as Eisuke handles narration from the perspective of ground control, his broadcasts going off into space without receiving a reply. Eisuke’s plaintive internal monologue lets us know how his hobby has no audience. But then! A shy girl attending the school’s night classes records a response under the guise of Major Tom. Her name is Asuka Mochizuki (Chika Arakawa) and she takes the story into dramatic new territory with a do-or-die scenario that hints at certain doom for her. This is the start of the two relay recording a radio play where, as both riff on the journey of Bowie’s hero, they admit their shared loneliness and unlock a sense of hope and human connection that warms their lives. 

At ten minutes, this is a perfectly formed film that carries a heavy dose of nostalgia and hints of school romance for additional sweetness. The writing is stellar, from the names – the kanji for our lead male, Hoshi 星, appropriately means “star” – to the carefully crafted monologues and recordings that match up the profound sense of isolation in the lyrics of Space Oddity to the lonely psychological space they both inhabit. As their play builds in dramatic tension and Major Tom’s life is in jeopardy, an aching emotional desire for human contact emerges as the performers give beautifully earnest renditions of their lines.

The film is restricted to a few interior and exterior sets, the most dominant being a recording booth which is artfully decorated with props like cassette tapes, reel-to-reel players, and old posters. Adding further to the visual nostalgia is an 80s-inspired boxy 4:3 aspect ratio and the grainy look from being shot on 16mm film, all of which capture the age this takes place in. The poignancy of reaching out through empty space to touch another person is visualised well with imaginative flights of fancy that changes the central location of the recording booth into a field of stars as Eisuke starts to visualise his companion until Asuka’s presence is more clearly defined in a wonderful ending that caps what feels like a paean to the romance of collective creativity and meeting a soulmate.

Every aspect of the film exquisitely feeds into the atmosphere of School Radio to Major Tom to make it a very moving work that evokes a feeling of nostalgia, loneliness, and hope, in a package that is easy to enjoy. The aesthetics, earnest emotions, the sense school-days charm, the DIY creativity, and the young protagonists bring to mind the works Nobuhiko Obayashi, which is high praise considering that writer/director Takuya Chisaka is a student filmmaker!

An edited version of this review was posted on V-Cinema on August 31st, 2021.

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