JFF Plus Online Festival Day 6/7 – Manic Wrestling and Sedate Nature Trails

Two days in one this time, since I only really felt like watching one selection from each of Days 6 and 7. Considered as a double bill, this pair of films would really give you whiplash.

Yuasa Masaaki’s Kick-Heart (2013) is a hyperkinetic wrestling love story (of sorts) packed with hallucinatory imagery. Masked Man M (Suzuki Tatsuhisa) is an obscure male wrestler with a bondage fetish who pretends to be a CEO in his civilian identity so that the nun-run orphanage in which he was raised will be proud of him. Lady S (Honda Takako) is the superstar wrestler he longs to face, who just so happens to be the attractive young nun who has recently joined the orphanage. Masked Man M goes on the run from his employer after inadvertently winning a match he was supposed to lose, but all is forgiven when he agrees to fight a charity match against Lady S which is more an exploration of their mutual kinks than a battle royale.

Yuasa uses a mix of pencils, crayons and paints to bring to life his messy, constantly moving imagery bursting with over-the-top emotions and garish colours. Yuasa was responsible for the bizarre SF short “Happy Machine”, an extract from the Genius Party [Jīniasu Pāti] (2007) anthology which was showcased earlier this year at the We Are One Global Film Festival. His work here is a lot less disciplined in style but his fervid imagination has clearly not been idle in the interim. In 2014 he contributed an episode – “Food Chain” – to the wonderful US animated series Adventure Time and he has since gone on to reinvent Nagai Go’s creation Devilman [Debiruman] (1972) for the Netflix animation Devilman: Crybaby (2018).

My selection from Day 7 is a huge change of pace, both from the previous film and from the regular run of “lost in the woods” movies in my viewing history, which tend to have a high body count and end with at most one survivor. This is not one of those movies. Ecotherapy Getaway Holiday [Taki wo mini iku] (2014) follows a group of seven women, all in their forties or older, travelling on a tour guide bus to visit waterfalls and hot springs. Their guide (Kuroda Daisuke) struggles to maintain the attention of any of his passengers while on the bus. After disembarking for the hike to the waterfall, the increasingly flustered actions of the guide make it apparent that this is his first time conducting the tour and he has no idea where he’s going. He asks them to wait while he scouts ahead, but after a long absence the women decide to try to find their own way.

What follows is basically a massive female bonding exercise at the women get to know each other, discover the range of skills and knowledge that they share, support each other, resolve a couple of minor disputes and generally have a good time, not panicking even when they’re forced to spend the night in the woods before setting out again. Junko (Negishi Haruko) is the glue holding them all together, a quiet woman whose daughter bought her the tour package as a gift so she could get out of the house for awhile. Whenever it looks like things might turn bad, she pulls out yet another unexpected wilderness survival competency, even catching a snake which they cook and eat. Yumiko (Yasuzawa Chigusa) is the youngest of the group, a woman who hides her insecurity under a brash exterior and has recently suffered a breakup. Yuriko (Ogino Yuriko) is a tai chi instructor who used to go bird-watching with her husband before his death the preceding year – there’s a beautifully simple dream sequence in which he turns up from nowhere unquestioned, only to disappear again after a brief exchange, which is perhaps the most deeply touching part of the film. Mie (Kirihara Mie) and Kumiko (Kawada Kumiko) are old friends – Mie has a bad back and Kumiko is an opera singer with a penchant for Schubert. Keiko (Tokinou Keiko) is the oldest and most openly friendly, a nature photography enthusiast who has taken fellow enthusiast Michiko (Watanabe Michiko) under her wing.

Writer/director Okita Shûichi has assembled a cast of amateur performers to tell this quiet and relaxed story of female friendship, as you might have guessed considering that each actress shares either a first or last name with her character. Of the seven central women, only three of them have any IMDB credits prior to this film (minor supporting roles on television), while for Kawada Kumiko this is her sole credit. It’s a choice which pays off for the story Okita wants to tell, adding a level of straightforward naturalism to the women’s interactions. The hapless mud-encrusted tour-guide finally reappears at the end after the women have made their own way to visit the waterfall, making quite a contrast as he staggers up towards them and needs to be assisted in climbing the slope. As the only professional actor among them, it seems appropriate that he volunteers to be left behind as the seven women get a ride back to civilisation on the back of an old farmer’s tractor-trailer – he belongs to a different world, watching them recede into the distance before finally beginning to descend the path himself.

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