Kaitanshi Jokei / 海炭市叙景 / Sketches of Kaitan City
Based on the last unfinished novel by Yasushi Sato, Kaitanshi Jokei, molds a set of stories, bound not so much by character or crossed lives, but by place. The place is Kaitan City, a fictional Hakodate, crippled by a moribund economy and left with few expectations. The time is winter. The characters in question lead small and relatively unexceptional lives. Director Kazuhoshi Kumakiri takes 5 of these stories and crafts an extraordinary downbeat parable of the contemporary disillusion. The first story follows Souta (Pistol Takehara) and his sister, Honami (Tanimura Mitsuke). We’re introduced to them as children learning the news that their father has died in an industrial accident at the shipyards. Years later, Souta is working at the same shipyards. Following a strike and the capitulation of the union, this working class hero finds himself laid off and slowly and quietly reaches the end of his tether. His sister watches, but can do nothing. On New Year’s Eve he bids adieu to Honami after watching the sunrise from the hill overlooking the city and thus ends his story. An old lady, her only companion a fat cat, earns a meager living selling vegetables and raising pigs and chickens at her tiny lot surround by cleared and vacant land. A suit comes to visit, cajoling her to sell the tiny parcel and make way for a major development. She simply says no, but one snowy night, her cat disappears. Two stories follow with variations of similar themes, one on the cuckolded husband and the other on the wife who thinks her spouse is two-timing her. The resolutions of both stories remain sad and unfulfilling. Kazuhoshi takes both into troubling and not necessarily pleasant places. But in looking at the small town as macrocosm for the larger society, he resolves them with a strong critique of how men cope and fail in this ol’ macho world. The final story follows an all too familiar failure of fathers and sons to communicate and get past old hurts. The film ends with a surprising ray of hope in springtime with the old woman at her brave little house still standing as big construction machines break ground around her for the new development and a more generic future. Kumakiri takes a certain risk in this particular style of omnibus film that is ever so popular these days and makes it work, not by making the lives interact, but by allowing them to pass through the same space. Place and mood take the burden of the individual narratives and connect them. Which is not to say that the standout performances of all involved, a cast of professionals and found talent, don’t matter. There’s not a missing note in any of the performances.
Originally published in EL Magazine, December 2010