2007 Vancouver International Film Festival
(September 27 - October 12)
2007 Pia Film Festival:
Special Jury Prize
The phenomenon of hikikomori
is a fascinating one. The notion that someone could literally shut themselves away from the outside world for months and even years on end without serious intervention is unfathomable in American culture. Yet in Japan, there exists and entire subculture of such individuals. Ryo Nakajima was himself a hikikomori. At the age of 19, knee-deep in this lifestyle, he (unlike many in the same situation) focused his energies, indeed his frustrations, on a screenplay. Four years later he emerges from the other end with This World of Ours
, a stunning debut film that echoes the likes of contemporary Japanese auteurs Shunji Iwai and Shinji Aoyama in it's observations on modern youth coming to grips with the world they are inheriting.
The story centers around the desperate travails of Ryo, a disenfranchised boy who ostensibly withdraws from society; Ami, a mysterious girl with a suicidal streak; and Hiroki, a pathetic shell of a young adult unable to carve his own path in life. All three face an unending gauntlet of personal and social tribulations (both individually and, at times, together - yet not) exasperated by their ambitions to be more than the rank and file of humanity. When the realization that, regardless of their actions, the world will never change dawns on each, the question becomes whether this world of ours can include them.
Though the film may sound like your standard angst-ridden J-drama, This World of Ours
is anything but conventional. For one, the characters are actually tormented by their unrealistic ambitions. Ryo, who begins the film as a bully until the tables are turned on him, fears society's perception of him as a loser - causing him to skip school so as to avoid ridicule. Ami, almost ghost-like in her omnipresence, both instigates the event that leads to Ryo's current situation then latches on to him as a fellow lost soul. Where as he is incapable of facing his reality, Ami uses others as pawns to meddle with society without getting her own hands dirty - and temporarily providing distraction from her own self-loathing. In fact, the only cause she's directly active in is her pursuit of Hiroki, who himself is too busy trying to avoid - unsuccessfully - the life of a wage-slave; one who is used up then easily discarded for someone younger and cheaper. They are rebels without a cause, but withdraw themselves from society's constructs regardless.
Shot with the energy of youth, Nakajima mines gold from his meager resources. I have always contended that a lack of budget does not affect one's ability to compose a shot. A filmmaker either has a voice and perspective or doesn't - the images never lie. It's immediately obvious that Nakajima isn't working with much here, but his talent shines through. The film bristles with a kinetic visual style but never overwhelms the substance of the material. Shot mostly hand held, the images take on an ethereal quality that further articulates the psychological states of the characters. All three are floating through their lives in a malaise of hopelessness and the camera floats right along with them. It is a testament to the discipline in the direction that the unsteady visuals are not disorienting as is often the case in similarly shot films (Jianjun He's Pirated Copy
comes to mind). Aurally, the use of classical standards, and even a touch A Clockwork Orange
-inspired electronica, fit in perfectly with the subject and imagery - a harmony that is often lacking in independent films that choose uninspired original scores that lack the requisite emotional or thematic punch.
As a post-9/11 film, Nakajima's powerful debut is one of the finest to address the subject. The film opens on grainy, almost dream-like images of the World Trade Center Towers crumbling to the ground - apropos to film's contention that 9/11 is but a memory - and ends with a Government Building in Tokyo meeting the same fate. The film simmers with the frustration that the world hasn't changed in the wake of 9/11. That such a resounding act of aggression on the most powerful nation in the world could not shift our very existence creates a sense of powerlessness in Ryo and Ami in particular, as their attempts in perpetrating their own act of terrorism is measured against the 9/11 attacks. Ryo complains that Ami's various suggestions for possible targets are meaningless as they wouldn't constitute any real change in the world. For Hiroki, the topic of 9/11 comes up during a drunken group conversation that precedes his participation in the gang rape of a girl, the juxtaposition of the two profound in its audacity. 9/11 has become little more than conversation fodder - without any tangible significance on anyone's day-to-day life beyond those directly affected by the tragedy. The film laments man's tendency to forget and move on, even if it is a necessity for individual survival.
This World of Ours
is absolutely a movie for the times we live in. This generation, my generation, are closet revolutionaries who lack the revolutionary spirit and zeal. In an age where personal opinions are dispensed through the anonymous sanctuary of the information superhighway, we have lost our ability to sacrifice ourselves for the idea of change. We log on, assume cyber identities, and tee off on any and all subjects instead of taking to the streets and knocking down the proverbial doors that can actually make a difference. Ryo, Ami, and Hiroki find no hope in their lives because they are unwilling to work for what they want. Each takes the coward's path - one of despair and ambivalence - that many of this generation have chosen. With any hope, we will succeed where these characters fail and give meaning to this world of ours