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Festivals and Conferences, Japanese Cinema, Romance

BIFF 2011 #7: Seesaw (Japan 2010)

Makoto and Shinji kiss during their party.

There are many confident independent young women in Japanese fictions from manga to anime and from novels to film and television. Unfortunately we don’t get to see them very often in dramas on UK screens – only in horror or other extreme genres. Seesaw offers a contemporary young couple with a primary focus on Makoto (Murakami Maki). But it is only likely to get festival screenings as its short length (70 mins) will deter distributors. Still, there will be another chance to see it in Bradford next Sunday (27 March) at Cineworld.

Makoto has been living for two years with Shinji a former actor now in some kind of office job. Shinji is played by the writer/director Kanyama Keihiro. The narrative begins with a party given by Makoto and Shinji on behalf of their friends Keiko and Takumi who are about to marry. Shinji would like to consider marriage but Makoto is happy with the status quo of living together. Their relationship is balanced – just like the seesaw on which they sit in a nearby playground. She is happy in her freelance teaching of Japanese to foreigners and sees no reason to change – except that she begins to get morning sickness and worries that she might be pregnant. One day, Shinji jumps off the seesaw to say hello to a stray dog. The narrative then takes an unexpected turn (although it was signalled in the credit sequence). I won’t spoil the narrative twist, suffice to say that the tone changes and Murakami gets the chance to dominate the screen.

The film was shot on Mini-DV and blown up to CinemaScope so the resultant image is soft and the colours pale. Japanese apartments are small and the rather cramped location is handled well in the format. However, it does seem that the emphasis is on the performances rather than the milieu. I would have liked more time with the two young women together. In the one extended scene (choosing a wedding dress for Keiko) I was reminded of Take Care of My Cat (South Korea 2001) with its five young female college-leavers and their subsequent lives. But perhaps 70 minutes is long enough for a calling card piece and I hope the festival exposure helps all those involved.

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