Haruna Tanaka Double-Bill: “Shall We Love You?” and “Kanro  甘露” [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2023]

Haruna Tanaka is a filmmaker whose film presence I became aware of through two fine shorts; Slough (2020), a contemplative and slow-paced story about the loss of a child which hit a few festivals before being featured in a MIRRORLIAR FILMS anthology, and LIFELIKE (2018), a historical drama which played at the 20th Japan Film Fest Hamburg and won the Golden Iris Prize at the Aichi International Women’s Film Festival 2018.

Her latest shorts are featured at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2023 in a special sidebar dedicated to her. For both films, it looks like she worked with the same crew – Koichi Nakajima (DoP), Masahiro Sone (colorist), Reach Minoji (music) etc. – and used similar techniques to capture dialogue driven stories. With well-written scripts and talented performers who deliver their roles with focus, she has two films well worth watching.

Shall We Love You?   Shall We Love You Film Poster R

Release Date: 2023

Duration: 7 mins.

Director: Haruna Tanaka

Writer: Haruna Tanaka (Screenplay),

Starring: Nishiki Morikawa, Saya Imajo, Nami Nishida,

Shall We Love You? is a film where Haruna Tanaka, working as writer, director, and editor, has a single camera in a fixed position and uses one long take to capture the action.

Said action is watching three members of a high school drama club, located in Tochigi Prefecture, discuss Oscar Wilde’s “The Happy Prince” ahead of a stage adaptation. Their talk takes wild diversions during their read-through of the script as they ponder the meaning of the word happiness and how it relates to the play and their own lives.

Shall We Love You Film Image R

While this is a film with one long conversation, there’s plenty of physical action and lots of details to pay attention to thanks to staging and the blocking of the actors.

The location is the balcony area of a high school gymnasium. That space is expanded through mirrors in the background – apart from a strategically placed cardboard box on a table blocking a reflection of the camera recording the action – and an active soundscape of basketball practice happening off screen. The noise and action of the sport sits comfortably below the dialogue and, on occasion, intervenes. This adds an energy to the world as we get extra dimensions to the area and, on occasion, the mirrors allow us to see things happening off camera as another student weaves in and out of this particular scene.

Amping the energy up are the lively cast. The actors are highly expressive in a naturalistic way and it is hard not to be won over by their charisma. Their conversation is fun and free-wheeling like a twisting-turning relay-race as each person picks up on ideas, jokes, and thoughts of the previous one and the fact that it is done in one take is impressive and the performers have to be commended.

Kanro Kanro Film Poster R

甘露 Kanro

Release Date: 2023

Duration: 12 mins.

Director: Haruna Tanaka

Writer: Haruna Tanaka (Screenplay),

Starring: Keigo Oka, Ippei Tanaka,

Receiving its world premiere at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2023, Kanro sees Nakamura use a fixed camera and one long take to capture a conversation between two characters, Daigo (Keigo Oka) and his younger brother Soma (Ippei Tanaka, a great performer as can be seen in The Path Leading to Love), as they reunite in their grandfather’s sweet shop for the first time since the old man’s funeral.

Kanro Film Image R

This may take place in a single location but there is a lot going on to give a sense of life on the move.

Audiences will find their eyes drawn to the centre of the frame where the performers are perched on a raised tatami area but there are still details around to take in like empty fixtures and an old-fashioned sign. Natural light spills in through window panes and through the glass we can see the world passing by.

Tanaka’s dialogue covers a lot of ground, too, from family history to the Covid-19 pandemic, ore-ore scams, shared memories and the separate lives of the two characters, one of whom has relocated to Tokyo. The mythological meaning of kanro, jelly that gives the film its title, is brought up and that allows the film to enter slightly unexpected territory with the aid of a smartphone and two lit cigarettes burning away. I’m being cryptic because that switch led to a shiver-inducing (in a good way) twist that elevated the film above simply being amusing to being mysterious and even life-affirming.

The structuring of the conversation is beautiful and seems to be based on the four-part Japanese narrative structure of “Ki-sho-ten-ketsu” — the introduction of the brothers reuniting, the development of memories, the twist of the revelation that puts everything in context, and the conclusion as we revel in the understanding of events. This was exhibited in a film from Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022, Kahori Higashi’s The Residents

What keeps our attention are the skilled performers whose chemistry is so perfect you can imagine that they share so much history and a deep personal connection. They offer a one-cut performance to admire and Tanaka’s staging and faith in her performers pays off marvellously.

These shorts are well worth catching. They play at the Osaka Asian Film Festival again on March 16.

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