A man reconnects with his estranged sister in Koji Fukada’s short but touching drama.
“Dad used to say ‘never eat a cucumber before you come here’.”
Confronting your past can be one of the hardest things some people go through. Not knowing what kind of reception or reaction you’ll get can make the entire thing daunting, or downright terrifying. But the same goes for those being confronted. How do you treat the truths presented before you? Is it ever too late to make up for past mistakes?
These are some pretty heavy questions, but ones which make for fairly rich drama. It’s the topic that Koji Fukuda tackles in Inabe, his 2013 short film that is airing as part of this year’s We Are One: Global Film Festival. Here, the people in question are Naoko (Ami Kurata), who returns home after having left home 17 years ago. She has a baby, and wants to reconnect to her brother Tomohiro (Hiroaki Matsuda). Together, they walk through their old town reminiscing and begin a search for a keepsake Naoko buried many years ago.
Inabe threw me off at first, as I was convinced – having read almost nothing about it – that it was a documentary. It’s certainly shot like one, with no soundtrack and long, lingering shots of slow, naturalistic dialogue. But the style is emblematic of the typical Japanese drama, and follows in the footsteps of the movies of Katsuhito Ishii or Satoshi Miki, where the absence of action reveals as much as the dialogue would.
In many ways, the film is almost presented more like a short story or a play, as the dialogue does the majority of the heavy lifting. Visually, the scenes surrounding these moments of dialogue aren’t hugely interesting (compared to a similar film like Railroad Man, where the Hokkaido setting was about as important as the titular character) but what they lack in filmic storytelling they more than make up for with heart and pensive contemplation.
The movie spends a lot of its time on seemingly pointless conversation, and while it doesn‘t exactly have a mind-blowingly original story, it does provide a sense of realism, like you’re watching real people just walk and talk. Your enjoyment of this small tale will probably hinge entirely on whether or not you want to watch Naoko and Tomohiro just sort of amble about, discussing their pasts and present. Without the length that a more reflective piece offers, Inabe has to take a few shortcuts and outright just tells us what it needs to, but it still knows how to pace itself, letting the final five minutes do a tonne of emotional heavy lifting.
But ultimately it’s a brief meditative piece on loss and regret. It lacks the refinement of something longer form, but given its short runtime and thesis it manages to deliver pretty nicely while never answering every question fully. It’s a film drenched in sadness, although that isn’t immediately obvious – and that’s a boon. Inabe seems like it’s wandering aimlessly for a while, but much like its main characters seemingly roundabout conversations, it has a destination, but not every conclusion is a happy one.
Verdict: Toeing the line between engaging and pointless, Inabe still manages to stick the landing through careful writing and convincing performances.
Overall entertainment: 7/10
Action scenes: Racing a train, counts?
Reverse waterfalls: 1? That stills like too many
White snakes: Good luck
Football sequences: Ay! Ayy! Aaayyyy!
Director: Koji Fukada
Writer: Koji Fukada
Hiroaki Matsuda – Tomohiro
Ami Kurata – Naoko