Japan (2016) Dir. Daisuke Miura
For all their idiosyncrasies there is no denying the Japanese are an industrious lot; their indomitable work ethic is legendary. But it has also given rise to an unfortunate and avoidable modern phenomenon “death by overwork”. Quite why anyone would willingly slog their guts out for a spot in the rat race is a mystery but, true to form, Japan has made a film about it.
Daisuke Miura adapts the novel by Ryo Asai which details the rites-of-passage leap from the comfort of university to the big wide world of full time employment for a group of young Japanese graduates as they navigate the job hunting process, which, as you might imagine in Japan, is a complex and thorough procedure in its own right.
Aspiring playwright Takuto Ninomiya (Takeru Satoh) has decided to give up the theatre for a steady job, as has his musician roommate Kotaro Kamiya (Masaki Suda). Also looking for work is Kotaro’s ex-girlfriend Mizuki Tanabe (Kasumi Arimura) who Takuto has a crush on. Mizuki befriends Rica Kobayakawa (Fumi Nikaido) who happens to live in the same apartment block as Takuto and Kotaru, so they use her flat as their base.
Rica lives with cynical hipster boyfriend Takayoshi Miyamoto (Masaki Okada), a freelance journalist who mocks their workforce aspirations but is soon on the lookout for a job himself. The film follows the group as they each reflect upon their individual needs, desires and attitudes towards the highly competitive employment sector, their friends and themselves.
If we can take one thing from Someone it is the rare insight into a side of Japan hitherto unexplored in cinema, which will either surprise many people or seem like typical Japan to the more knowledgeable viewer. Beyond this, Miura presents us with a cynical character study about the youth of today and the obsession with their egos that prevents them from seeing the bigger picture at the root of their failures.
That is of course, if this is what Asai was going for with his novel or whether Miura’s translation is why the meaning of the story gets lost along the way, not helped by the meta plot device of the same scenarios being acted out in a stage play, which are either Takuto’s latest works inspired by his job hunting or a figment of his imagination.
Or I could be completely wrong which is highly probable as the denouement does more to confuse things than to wrap them up. Up until this point, a veiled conceit of the film is the use of Twitter as a tool for everyone in the group to share updates on their job hunts. Takuto, as a writer, is keenly observant of other people and appears the most prolific in this area.
I won’t spoil how this plays into the climax but its relevance goes beyond being a superficial gimmick, but in all honesty we are too engaged in the happenings of the group, positing Takuto as the fulcrum. He seems the most mature and focused of the lot on the surface but is distracted by his former theatre buddy’s continuation on the stage as well as his feelings for Mizuki.
A love triangle of sorts form but not in any explicit or conventional sense – in other words, no illicit canoodling or moments of awkward frisson, especially as Mizuki’s current beau is a jobbing musician thus not part of the job hunt group. Mizuki has other issues to deal with and as such has had to set her sights for a prospective employer lower than she would like.
This comes to a head when Takayoshi fires off another inflated opinion about working for the machine and setting his own bar too high for when he does get an offer. With his mess of frizzy hair sitting atop his smug skinny face, he deserved a slap anyway so this verbal attack was letting him off easy. It also makes the attraction of Takayoshi to the super serious Rica baffling but you know what they say about opposites.
From a western point of view, getting to see how the unemployed go about job hunting in Japan is fascinating. While we sit about with newspapers or surfing the web, in Japan hordes of graduates and job seekers all dressed alike in their smart black business suits – male and female – descend upon job fairs where companies hold group talks to sell themselves to these future employees.
To get a job offer, interviews are sometimes held in groups and candidates are asked to describe themselves to a panel in 60 seconds, eliciting the standard platitudes about being conscientious, wanting to leave a mark on society, etc. Some companies hold actual exams for entry, either in a hall or online, but this doesn’t always guarantee acceptance.
With a dynamic lead cast of some notable and popular young up and coming actors in Japanese cinema, this is may appear to be an ensemble movie for Millennials but this shouldn’t deter older viewers from watching, as it might illustrate ways the job market has either changed or stayed the same since their day.
Miura’s direction is modest and doesn’t overshadow the presentation but shows ingenious flurries in using the stage plays as a means to make a point, as well as a crucial device for revealing Takuto’s true nature. At 97 minutes and with five different people to focus on, nobody really gets to outshine the others but no-one is shunted into the background either, although this does lead to a rushed conclusion with a twist from out of nowhere.
Someone has all the makings of being a profound work but remains too arcane to realise this while the runtime doesn’t allow all the main threads to fully develop. On the plus side, getting to a see a side of Japan not usually explored in cinema is immensely valuable, as is seeing younger talent thrive in their own, adult free environment.