１９ （ナインティーン）「19 Nainti-n」
Release Date: July 14th, 2001
Duration: 82 mins.
Director: Kazushi Watanabe
Writer: Kazushi Watanabe (Script),
Starring: Daijiro Kawaoka, Kazushi Watanabe, Takeo Noro, Ryo Shinmyo, Masashi Endo, Nachi Nozawa,
19 is a coming-of-age drama that takes place on the open roads of the Kanto region. It starts with a university student named Usami (Daijiro Kawaoka) being kidnapped in broad daylight by a trio of young men in a car and taken on a road trip with no destination in mind and no explanation on offer.
Said kidnappers are beanie-wearing Chiba (Takeo Noro) who takes photographs, tight-lipped sunglasses-wearing Kobe (Ryo Shinmyo) who does the driving, and their leader, the more garrulous Yokohama (director Kazushi Watanabe himself), a real wise-ass. Their names seem to indicate where they come from but whatever the case, the three will not permit Usami to leave their company. Pretty soon, even when the opportunity is on offer, Usami is unable to leave of his own free will because he falls under the influence of his captors. Their influence is obvious: they act less like kidnappers and more like delinquent elder brothers. Their petty crimes rely on being audacious – walking out of a supermarket without paying? Sure. Stealing a car? Yep. It escalates, however. Kidnapping more people? Can do. Anything and everything is possible on their road trip.
There is the occasional reveal of a philosophical bent to the young men, such as posing questions about life, the universe, and Einstein’s theories on the speed of light. Some of it sounds cool – if you go fast enough, time slows down, therefore driving means they can live forever. But there is much more of the mundane such as their hunt for Max Coffee. Whatever they choose to reveal, they remain mysterious. There is tension inherent in the scenario they have set up and their misadventures.
Is there a point to the film? I get the sense that it has a nihilism at its heart which matches the actions of its wayward, amoral wandering protagonists. Helping create that feeling is a visual look that has a bleak end-of-the-world feel: washed-out visuals, graininess to the film, bleak-looking locations. It all gives the film an apocalyptic vibe, especially when we get a wide shot of the guys standing on a beach, the waves crashing against the shore and a sky heavy with clouds
There is also a post-rock soundtrack of guitar riffs that sound burnt out, hazy reverb to match the shots of the guys on concrete or barren dusty shores.
In effect (and in the absence of any didactic messaging), 19 can be taken as a striking mood piece from Kazushi Watanabe. He would go on to play the titular Visitor Q in Takashi Miike’s movie. Miike was a fan of 19 and for good reason as it is highly atmospheric. It was Watanabe’s debut feature film and is based on the 8mm version he shot in 1996 that won the semi-grand prix at the 19th Pia Film Festival. Armed with 16mm and a budget of 20 million yen from the studio GAGA, he was assisted by experienced staff, including cinematography from Masakazu Oka (The Suicide Manual, Ace Attorney, Deadball) to create an end-of-the-world experience that viewers will feel while watching it.
The film ends on an open note that denies any sense of closure, especially after horrifying events. No catharsis or reckoning with what has happened, just an awareness of the capacity to commit chaos, one that was slowly built up through seemingly pointless and frivolous misadventures, and the culprits continuing to roam around, no destination in mind.
You can find out more about the film from the director himself on his site.