Miyamoto aka From Miyamoto to You (Miyamoto kara Kimi e)

Japan (2019) Dir. Tetsuya Mariko

“Living life as best I can”

As passive as this sounds, it has some validity in today’s world, where having an opinion is the worst thing, what it means to be a man or a woman has changed drastically, and the rules of life itself have changed drastically. Under those circumstances, doing your best may not be enough.

Bloodied and battered, Hiroshi Miyamoto (Sosuke Ikematsu) staggers through the street to a rest room where he spits out mouthfuls of blood and examines where the space where his three front teeth used to be. The reason why Hiroshi is in this state is because of his fiancé Yasuko Nakano (Yu Aoi), who is pregnant. Before this, Hiroshi was a meek college graduate with little going for him, easily trampled on by everyone.

Meeting Yasuko changed all of that until Hiroshi discovered she had been using him to ditch her cheating boyfriend Yuji (Arata Iura). Yet, Hiroshi still stands up for Yasuko, telling Yuji he loves her and will always protect her, impressing Yasuko. However, life is about to put Hiroshi’s promise to the test in the worst ways, but is he really up to the challenge?

It is rare that you watch a film that hits you hard, exceeds expectations, and knocks the wind out of you emotionally, yet when it is over, yet you still find yourself asking “What the hell did I just watch?” Miyamoto is one of those films. Adapted from a manga by Hideki Arai, which was previously a late night TV drama with largely the same cast, it is a raw, unflinching, often darkly comic look at toxic masculinity and gender politics.

Not the sort of topic usually covered in manga, or at least those that are adapted into an anime series, so perhaps it is apt Tetsuya Mariko is the man behind this film version since his 2016 outing Destruction Babies is a similarly dark, nihilistic tale of social misfits and unconventional relationships.

Employing a non-linear narrative with the present day timeline setting up a flashback to explain the situation, it takes a while to get into the rhythms Mariko sets, though the changes are easily identifiable as Yasuko has longer hair and Hiroshi all of his teeth! For example, when Hiroshi introduces Yasuko to his parents, his mother guesses Yasuko is pregnant and berates her son for not breaking the news properly, leading to a jump back in time.

One night after work, Yasuko and Hiroshi are invited – nay cajoled – into having drinks with Hiroshi’s boss Keizo Mabuchi (Pierre Taki), who invites his teenage son Takuma (Wataru Ichinose) to join them on the promise of “experiencing” an older woman. After a skin full, Yasuko and Hiroshi take Takuma back to their place, where Hiroshi passes out on the bed, and Takuma rapes Yasuko.

Hiroshi’s response is naturally one of anger and pity towards Yasuko, but she is angry with Hiroshi for failing to live up to his promise to protect her. She also takes umbrage at Hiroshi crying over the pain Yasuko felt, believing he doesn’t have the right to as it didn’t happen to him. Hiroshi vows revenge but Yasuko says it is not his revenge to take, and asks what can a skinny weakling like him can do against rugby-playing hulk Takuma.

From the opening sequence, we already have an answer to this, but this was only the first stage of their violent David vs. Goliath feud. There is a lot to unpack in examining the whys and wherefores of the importance to Hiroshi’s need for vengeance, from the events leading up to the rape to perpetuating the idea of masculinity being measured in pints of beer and rampant testosterone.

Rarely is a film that oscillates between wrought, relevant social drama to absurd violent nightmare able to be obnoxious and enigmatic at the same time but this is what Mariko achieves here. When Hiroshi and Yasuko are not screaming tearfully at each other, not making much sense in exorcising their own angst, both struggle to operate in a world that refuses to accept them for who they are, Hiroshi the biggest victim of this.

With a happy ending all but unlikely, there is a lot to wear the audience down across the 129-minute run time, least of all the raucous end theme song, a thrash punk number that feels highly inappropriate yet somehow encapsulates everything this film is about. There is a lot of screaming, a lot of blood, so many incidents in which basic courtesy and humanity are absent, shocking us to the core yet not surprising us at all.

Perhaps it is because Japanese cinema is known for being extreme that we aren’t too taken back by the content, even though it still cuts deep. Regarding the violence, the final showdown between Hiroshi and Takuma is arguably the most brutally realistic fight in cinema whilst being the dumbest because of its realism. Same for the hysterical rows and reactions from Yasuko – she comes across as unreasonable in how she rationalises her actions yet it is expected she will be confused emotionally, again making it real.

Yu Aoi makes a brave leap from her usual sweet girl next-door role to play Yasuko, not just in stripping off and performing a brief sex scene, but in becoming such an abrasive and often objectionable character. It is a startling turn from Aoi, showing her range as an actress whilst fortunate to have Sosuke Ikematsu to riff off, perfectly cast for his shorter height, though his manic shouty anime-type persona does wear a bit thin.

Miyamoto is not a film but an experience. It will make you uncomfortable, make you laugh, make you think, and make you feel. Life has its own rules it is up to you to either play by them or find your own way of living it, just don’t let anyone else hold you down. A subversive gem of genuine substance!

 

Currently available on the The Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme Online Festival Feb 19th – Mar 7th

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