Akiko KanaAkira EmotoToshie NegishiKenjiro Ishimaru
Nagisa
Medium: film
Year: 2000
Director: Masaru Konuma
Writer: Motoka Murakami, Osamu Murakami, Takeshi Saito
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Actor: Madoka Matsuda, Arisa Inasaka, Yoshie Yoshiki, Kazunori Sasaki, Yoshimi Ashikawa, Tsumami Edamame, Akira Emoto, Hajime Idemitsu, Kenjiro Ishimaru, Akiko Kana, Yuko Katagiri, Chiyomi Matsumoto, Toshie Negishi, Masaru Shimamura, Sansho Shinsui
Format: 89 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0269600/
Website category: Japanese
Review date: 19 October 2010
I'm not sure what the point of that was, but it's quite sweet. Nagisa (Madoka Matsuda) is a girl growing up in a tourist seaside town in Japan. I guessed that she was a tall ten-year-old, but an internet search suggests that the actress and her friends were about thirteen. This movie is basically an hour and a half of girl stuff. There's no real plot. There's no antagonist. Nagisa hangs out with her friends, kisses a boy in a childlike way and does part-time work at a local cafe to earn money to buy a record player. Come to think of it, in the end I don't think we even see her buy it. Maybe she went off the idea?
This is a gentle film that never pushes. Even when something bad happens towards the end, it's handled elegaically and no blame attaches to anyone. It's just one of those things. Obviously we get to know Nagisa quite well, who's a nice straightforward girl with slightly mysterious likes and dislikes when it comes to people. She has a best friend, Noriko (Yoshie Yoshiki), who she then dumps unceremoniously only to pick up with again once the summer's over. Neither of them think anything of it. Then there's another girl called Mami (Arisa Inasaka) whom Nagisa doesn't even want to go near, but then Mami finally catches up with her and the two of them seem to become friends and have fun hanging out until Mami turns a bit weird. We never learn why Nagisa objected to Mami in the first place, but that doesn't matter either. It's an "in the moment" movie. You're a child in a beautiful seaside town, during what appears to be a long summer holiday. What matters is now. Last year? Last week? Those things don't exist in your world.
I liked most of the acting. There's a loud girl called Reiko (Chiyomi Matsumoto) who's extremely attractive, but whom I didn't really think was fully inside her character. As far as I can tell the actress didn't manage any kind of acting career, despite her looks. I'm not surprised. Meanwhile Inasaka has a couple of jarringly fake emotional moments, but in hindsight that's just her character being weird. Apart from that, it's all pleasant enough. Naturalism's the order of the day.
They've put no perceptible effort into recreating the period. Now admittedly I've had experiences like this before, e.g. learning after the fact that Oppai Volleyball was supposedly set in the 1970s and assuming that, being English, I was missing some cultural context. Being more knowledgeable about Japanese pop music would have helped, certainly. This film though is clearly taking the piss. Theoretically it's going back to the 1950s, or at the absolute latest the early 1960s. I think. It's hard to tell because they're doing it so badly, with everything you see screaming "modern day" at you, from the modern trucks and cars to the bikinis on the crowded tourist beach. When a Japanese teddy boy drove in from a Cliff Richard movie, I assumed there was a fancy dress party going on. Nope. This dude eventually takes us to a beach party where everyone's dancing the Twist. It would almost be surreal if this film were even remotely capable of surrealism.
There's not much incident, but there was enough to keep me watching. Nagisa's monumentally unsuited to her chosen part-time job, in a town where waitresses, bar staff and so on always seem to be flirting with the customers at the top of their voices. That was embarrassment comedy, although Nagisa manages to drag herself out of her shell a little. I also liked her teaching a strange boy to swim.
There's a bit of background. It's ignored by Nagisa, but it's still there. Her mother's flirtatiousness may or may not have anything to do with the fact that she's lost her husband, which given the period setting might perhaps mean that he was killed in World War Two. That's a stretch, though, and the film itself certainly never hints at anything that dark. I'm not sure that he's even dead. Maybe he ran off? There's also some backstory about Nagisa and Mami's mothers having been rivals for the same man, which leads the two girls to imagine themselves in each other's shoes. Mami's rich, you see.
The oddest thing about this film is its director. It's a late work from Masaru Konuma, the notorious director of dozens of Nikkatsu Roman Pornos, like Wife to be Sacrificed and Flower and Snake. A Hideo Nakata documentary about him also came out in 2000, Sadistic and Masochistic, which goes into highly entertaining detail about his sleazefests but also includes some behind-the-scenes footage of him making Nagisa.
This is a pleasant, random film that's meandering through life rather than driving ahead with a story. Plot threads get dropped without comment as the summer moves on and Nagisa finds other things to think about, e.g. the missing cat. It's not for the impatient, but I liked it.