Review: Nobuhiro Yamashita’s “Matsugane Potshot Affair”

Nobuhiro Yamashita’s film is a dark comedy following the decidedly odd events and inhabitants of the town of Matsugane (“town of the wild boar legend”) and the happenings of a particular winter. Much like his previous film Linda Linda Linda, Yamashita excels in wickedly deadpan humor, beginning with the disclaimer at the beginning of the film. Describing dramatization as an “occupational hazard that cannot be avoided,” it assures us that what we are about to see is “based on events that we ourselves have witnessed.” That the “we” remains unidentified is par for the course in the world of this film.

The film wastes no time in establishing its vision of human nature. The first image is of a woman, Miyuki (Miwa Kawagoe), lying in the snow, the victim of a hit-and-run. A boy sees the body and approaches it, and takes the opportunity to feel her up underneath her clothes. In the next scene, the body lies naked in the morgue, about to undergo an autopsy when the doctors and the police discover she is actually alive. Miyuki recovers and exits the hospital in a daze, although it is unclear whether this is a result of the accident or is her normal condition. After refusing to cooperate with the police, she returns to Nishioka (Yuichi Kimura), her hulking, thuggish husband, at their squat in an abandoned building in town.

This couple forms the fulcrum of a number of intertwined plotlines followed throughout the film. The hit-and-run driver is Hikari (Takashi Yamanaka), the dim-witted twin brother of local policeman Kotaro (Hirofumi Arai). He works on the family farm and hit the woman with the truck he uses to make the daily rounds. The woman and his brother soon spot Hikari at a local diner, and they soon blackmail him into helping them find a place to live and retrieve a bag of gold bouillon submerged in a frozen lake. A human head just happens to have been buried along with the gold. We never find out whose head it is, or how the gold got there, just as we are unsure who it was who impregnated Haruko (Tamae Ando), a mentally slow teenage girl who gives out sexual favors to seemingly every adult male in town. Yamashita is clearly more interested in presenting these events from a wryly anthropological distance, making the tone of this film reminiscent of Shohei Imamura’s later films, such as The Eel.

What makes this film memorable are the peculiar incidents that occur, some hilarious, some dramatic, others surreal: the homeless couple’s attempts to cash in the gold at the bank; Kotaro’s obsession with rats living in the police station’s ceiling, which apparently only he can see; Hikari’s attempt to pass off the couple as friends from Tokyo, when Kotaro discovers them in their senile grandfather’s old farm shack. Yamashita’s detached, God’s-eye view of the proceedings precludes any emotional identification with these characters and gives one of the impression of looking at an ant farm. Nevertheless, Matsugane Potshot Affair confirms Yamashita’s talents as a unique and amused observer of human absurdities and foibles.