JAPAN CUTS 2011: SKETCHES OF KAITAN CITY Review

Dustin Chang, Contributing Writer
A young shipyard worker takes pride in his work. You can see it in his face when one of the gigantic ships he worked on is being launched to sea. There is almost a childlike glee in him. Then the news of the company restructuring and the layoffs hit the airwaves. It's all down hill from there in the northern port city of Kaitan, where the soul crushing effects of economic downturn are the only things gloomier than its unforgiving wintry weather. Kazuyoshi Kamakiri's Sketches of Kaitan City is a relentlessly bleak film.

This Altman-esque, episodic film chronicles five very distinctive and loosely connected stories based on the shorts by novelist Yasushi Sato, set around a joyless new year's eve: the aforementioned shipyard worker and his sister take the city tram up to the overlook to watch the first sunrise of the year, only to find out that they don't have enough money for both for the lift down, an elderly woman refuses to move while the city tries to demolish her shack and make way for a new shopping mall, then her cat runs away, an operator of the shaggy city planetarium doesn't know how reconnect with his unresponsive teenage son and suspects his bar hostess wife is up to no good and, an abusive gas supply business owner beats his wife, who in turn, beats their son and an old trolly conductor meets his estranged Tokyoite son at his wife's grave.

With its handheld camerawork and minimal music, Sketches of Kaitan City resembles strongly of the neo-neo realism of the Dardenne brothers' films but without their sense of hope. That's just the thing. All the stories are equally strong and performances, very good. You feel their pain and suffering. But Kamakiri's documentary style filmmaking is too distant and dispassionate to be appreciated. It is problematic for a nearly three hour film where the only character that gives the audience a glimmer of hope is the pregnant cat, that there will be adorable kittens in the near future. Well, if you were jobless, homeless, beaten and isolated, what good would the kittens do?

Sketches of Kaitan City plays part of Japan Cuts 2011 July 19th, 6:30pm For tickets and information, please check their website.

Dustin Chang is a freelance writer, his musings and opinions of the world can be found at
www.dustinchang.com


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