Running Time: 25 mins.
Release Date: 2019
Director: Momoko Fukuda
Writer: Jumpei Inoue (Screenplay),
Starring: Jyonmyon Pe, Ai Bitou, Takeshi Donguri,
3/10 (Sun) 12:00 Cine Libre Umeda 4
3/11 (Mon) 14:50 Cine Libre Umeda 4
Momoko Fukuda is a director going places and quickly. Originally from Ibaraki City, Osaka Prefecture, she studied at the Japan Institute of the Moving Image and her graduation work Goodbye Mother (2014) was selected for big festivals such as the Yubari. In 2015 she took part in the NDJC: Young Filmmaker Development Project, a hotbed for young directors to grow in terms of their skills, and she made Dad’s Marriage (2016), a story where a make-up artist returns home on the occasion of her mother’s memorial to discover her father (played by actor and comedian Itsuji Itao) wants to become the bride of a local handyman. This was screened at international festivals and she is currently turning it into a feature. Recently she was tapped to create a short for the high-profile female led omnibus film 21st Century Girl (2018) and she appeared at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019 with the world premiere of her film Slowly, a short drama which goes in a totally different aims to use absurdity to examine the human condition.
The plot is pretty simple. A well-dressed couple, Yoko (Ai Bitou) and Kotaro (Jyonmyon Pe), are driving through the back roads of a small town in Saitama and stop when they find their path is blocked by a tennis umpire’s chair. After shifting it to the side and clearing the way a man named Igarashi (Takeshi Donguri) dashes into their lives and asks for their assistance in getting the chair back to the tennis centre it came from.
How it got there and why is not explained but we are treated to the absurd sight of this well-dressed couple and the young man lugging it through fields and past suburban stores. As the trio take turns carrying the chair to the tennis centre, they talk and the narrative is fleshed out little by little as we are given details that open up the world for greater meaning. Yoko and Kotaro had just attended their high school reunion, Yoko lives in America, Kotaro is a teacher and Igarashi used to be his student. Their lives are changing all the time and the older characters feel it more. This becomes Beckettian as, beneath the absurdity, the human propensity to worry and question our present in the face of an unknowable future eats away at Yoko and Kotaro.
The underlying subtext of change is teased out through dialogue and body-language which great camera movement and blocking delivers to help open up the emotional connections. There are the not-so-subtle pauses and dodges in Yoko’s replies over what she’s doing back in Japan. They talk fondly of memories and times past and they struggle to decide what to do for the future. Often times the blocking has Yoko at the apex of the scene thanks to the umpire’s chair which makes her emotions the more prominent and we watch her longing in her gaze as she looks out into the distance of their home town after talking about changes. She looks at Kotaro with a certain softness. He fishes for emotional responses. There was a deeper connection between the two at one point in the past and we wonder if they will overcome their reticence to reignite something. Or not.
As a viewer, I must admit that I found myself projecting my own thoughts and desires as I related to the sort of drifting in life and emotions the two did.
At times the film becomes surreal with certain sequences such as when they find a love hotel and Igarashi is transported from mundane small-town Japan to a fight on the battlefield of love. When they reach the tennis court, they talk and play. Both Kotaro and Yoko appear to share the desire to slow down time and enjoy this moment together before moving forward into the future and towards the end of the film there is a glorious slow dolly around them as they make a fateful decision to rejoin the flow of time and we see their faces fluctuate with all the internal decisions they are making.
This road trip is a small slice of life that takes a detour into the melancholy territory of opportunities past and present and uncertainty of the future. Within this small space, a profound depth of meaning is gained as we in the audience watch various actions and listen to ostensibly simple dialogue and intuit deeper connections and ideas. The setting, the lack of information which is then slowly filled in. Subtext emerges of how life has changed so fast for Yoko and Koataro and how they desire it to go slowly. They delay it by carrying the chair, playing tennis and talking but at some point the game has to come to an end. One can sense that neither wants to leave the other but also remaining together is not an option in their current states. They make a brave decision at the end, one which everyone in the audience will be able to relate to in their own way if they have experienced enough of life to have ever got to a crossroad regardless of whether it comes with or without a tennis umpire’s chair.