My Blood & Bones In A Flowing Galaxy (Kudakechiru tokoro o misete ageru)
Japan (2021) Dir. SABU
Not all heroes wear capes or have super abilities, but they are all driven by the same credo – a sense of justice. One thing that tends to get lost in the idea of being a hero is who exactly are they being a hero for – is it the victim or themselves? And who decides if you are a hero?
High school boy Kiyozumi Hamada (Taishi Nakagawa) has always wanted to be a hero. At school, he witnesses first year student Hari Kuramoto (Anna Ishii) being bullied by her entire class and steps in to help, but she rejects him by screaming at him. Undaunted, Kiyozumi makes it his mission to protect Hari even if she didn’t ask for his help, and they finally speak when he frees her from being locked in the school toilets after being doused with four buckets of cold water.
Opening up to Kiyozumi, Hari says UFOs hovering above her waiting to attack her are the true source of her misery. Kiyozumi vows to stand by Hari and gradually she lightens up and even makes a friend in classmate Ozaki (Kaya Kiyohara). Then Kiyozumi notices bruising on her arms and realises her torment is not limited to school, and after meeting Hari’s father (Shinichi Tsutsumi), becomes worried at just how much danger she is really in.
SABU – or Hiroyuki Tanaka to his family – adapts the light novel Kudakechiru tokoro o misete ageru by Yuyuko Takemiya for his latest essay on the isolation of society’s misfits and the cruel destiny that awaits them from coming together. The mystical title SABU chose for this film deliberately undermines the signposting of the novel’s translated title of “I Will Show You A Broken Place” to ease us into this typically dark yet fanciful tale of a bleak life.
The hero motif is explored in an admittedly unusual fashion to make a statement about masculinity and the male ego, a provocative subtext that would effectively cancel out the DC and Marvel universes if studied and extrapolated by a truly cynical mind. In this instance however, it is not mocking heroes but the idea of the hero’s MO – when to jump in and do something good, and to make sure it is for the right reasons.
Kiyozumi is a good lad, but he too was once an outcast at school for being insular with his lofty ideals until befriended by Gengo (Kai Inowaki), and now in his third year, he is seemingly popular. Meanwhile, Hari is treated like dirt by everyone in her class – a human punching bag and sounding board of hateful comments. It even occurs during the school assembly where Hari is bombarded by paper missiles and even shoes, and not a single teacher steps in.
For Kiyozumi, he feels he can now fulfil his lifelong dream of being a hero – except he doesn’t ask if Hari needs protecting. Whilst it is blatantly obvious she is resigned to this torturous existence and can’t fight back, the assumption on Kiyozumi’s part that he should be her nominated saviour is subtly laid out as arrogant. Indeed, when he rescues Hari from the toilet he is disappointed she can speak and isn’t so fragile after all.
Ultimately, this becomes a moot point once the expected romance gradually blossoms between them, but Kiyozumi is still keen on “transforming” Hari so she will get stronger and fight by his side and take on the UFOs. They do a mock hero transformation pose purely for laughs, working as an icebreaker for Hari trusting Kiyozumi, whilst the UFOs are a less humorous metaphor, as we later discover.
Both characters have different burdens relating to their fathers – Kiyozumi’s has passed away, leaving him with his mother (Akiko Yada); Hari’s father is also a single parent, and a bit of a strict one. There is some predictability to where this takes us, but unexpected developments turn this saga from uncomfortable to desperately tragic, as only Japanese cinema can. SABU might not be Miike or Sono, but the last act is comparably gruesome and cold.
What this all says about Japanese society could be said about any society really, yet it feels surreal because of how Japan is noted for its inherent politeness. Perhaps they are big on heroes because work and school life is such a slog; they crave escapism and live vicariously though them. In the case of Kiyozumi, it is a little more contrived, in that the hero gets the kudos and the girl, and by helping Hari, he gets both, although surely this also implies Hari is complicit by accepting Kiyozumi’s help?
I must confess I was caught out by something which I’m not sure others were. The film opens with a young lad (Takumi Kitamura) talking about how he wants to be a hero like his father, who drowned rescuing people from car in a river. We then cut to Kiyozumi’s story and I failed to notice that this wasn’t the same person, so when the kid returns at the end of the film, I didn’t realise the simple narrative at play here. Doh!
At the heart of this film are the performances to makes us believe it all, and no one is more deserving of praise than Anna Ishii. Also a member of J-pop group E-Girls, Ishii is absolutely heartbreaking as Hari, whether she is a Sadako look-a-like under her messy mane of hair, preppy revitalised muse, or endless victim of abuse. This mesmeric turn is complemented by the earnest geekiness of Taishi Nakagawa’s Kiyozumi.
Despite only seeing a couple of SABU’s films, My Blood & Bones In A Flowing Galaxy comes across as a peak work for the director, showing signs of maturity, inventiveness, and accomplishment across all aspects of the presentation and content. Some scenes could have been shortened as the 127-minute run time certainly feels that long, otherwise this astute dark fantasy romance gets a full recommendation.