A Film a Week - A Far Shore / Tooi tokoro

 previously published on Asian Movie Pulse

An underage club hostess’ life goes from bad to worse in Masaaki Kudo’s (I’m Crazy, Unprecedented) Karlovy Vary official Crystal Globe competition entry A Far Shore. The film is set in Okinawa, to the western audiences best known for WW2 historical reasons, whose contemporary side of being Japan’s poorest prefecture is less explored in cinema.

Aoi (Kotono Hanase) is a 17-year-old hostess working along her best friend Mio (Yumeni Ishida) in the club called Night Babylon, attending to the emotional needs and the needs for company of their clients. This kind of work is strictly illegal since the girls are under the legal age limit for both work and drinking alcohol, which is one of the principal requirements, but compared to the honest day’s work for a highschool dropout with no specific skills and a teen mother, it is quite lucrative. Every night after work, Aoi picks her son Kengo (Tsuki Hasegawa) from her grandmother’s place and heads home to a cramped little studio apartment where her drunk, lazy, abusive and more often than not violent partner Masaya (Yoshiro Sakuma) waits for her. Masaya has the habit of not showing up for work and spending Aoi’s money on drinking benders, but she is resourceful enough to keep some of her earnings well hidden.

However, after a police raid on her club, her luck is about to change from bad to worse. First, Masaya finds the majority of her stash and goes spending it. Also, every conversation with him about him getting a job ends up in beating he gives her. Beaten up, she cannot find a job as a hostess, and without money, she cannot pay her rent and support herself and her son, so her only option proves to be prostitution. With Masaya in prison, little to no help from others, her best friend’s judging, her work that requires detachment that could be only achieved through addiction, and the social services intervening on Kengo’s behalf, the vicious circle closes on her.

Watching A Far Shore resembles reading a feel-bad novel which, if done properly, does not have to be a bad thing. Unfortunately, this is not the case here. It all starts from the script divided in five chapters titled after some “wise” lines of dialogues spoken in them. The script, written by Kudo and Mami Suzuki, is riddled with clichés that are expected to be taken face-value, but also with some unnecessary repetitions, overly explanatory dialogues, and, for a good measure, elliptical jumps in plot development. Even though it is an original work, it seems like a clumsy adaptation of the literary material where the exposition is too long (it takes almost the half of the runtime) and some developments are rather cut than transferred to a cinematic material in a convincing fashion.

There are some moments that could be seen as inspirational and insightful, such as the politician’s speech on the radio in which he praises the Okinawan hospitality and solidarity and states the determination not to leave anyone behind, which actually could not be farther from the truth. Also, the attempt of showing the real life on the island, along with its own language, rifts between the generations and genders, as well as the pressing social matters is noble, but it gets overshadowed by the plot driven by, at best, two-dimensional characters.

On the craft level, Kudo is capable of executing a scene or even a sequence, especially in the lighter mode earlier on in which he can be convincing in presenting why a life of club- and party-girl is and should be attractive to someone like Aoi, but also when he has to show the brutality later on. However, his lyricism, highlighted with Takayaki Sugimura’s cinematography often gets impaired with the piano-heavy score by Hironori Ito and Keefar that feels like coming straight out of a TV melodrama that works only when it is spiced with synth drone simulating the sound of wind instruments or with J-Pop blasting from the background. Acting itself, especially Hanase’s is not problematic by itself, but the actors are tasked with playing in the heightened emotional register all the time, which feels excessive.

In the end, A Far Shore could have been a proper example of feel-bad cinema that unveils the emotional and the social aspects of a hard life and abuse in a hopeless place. But, executed this way, with particular clumsiness and the sense of certain manipulation of the audience going on, it actually betrays its important topic.

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