“The Kirishima Thing” (桐島、部活やめるってよ) – 2013 HKIFF Review

If you’ve gone to high school, you’ll instantly recognize the boundaries in class and hierarchy that come into play in Yoshida Daihachi’s “The Kirishima Thing.”  Uniforms do little to disguise who the popular kids are, who the nerds are, who the outcasts are and who doesn’t fit into any group.  In this case, the focal point of the student body, Kirishima, is never seen throughout the film’s 103 minutes, having mysteriously disappeared without a trace.  Yet his absence strikes fear in the groups that he is linked to, whether it is the volleyball team or the girls who admire him.  The only classmates who aren’t bothered by Kirishima’s non-presence are the film geeks, who have too many other issues to worry about, including Kirishima’s associates, who hang on to one last thread of self-worth in exercising their superiority over the outcasts.

The film begins by immediately drawing the viewer into the perspectives of various characters, not from a first-person narrative, but from a visual and observational point of view over the course of several days.  It is throughout Friday, the first day depicted in the film, when four different students’ experiences of the same events allow a three-dimensional understanding of the dynamics that unfold in the classroom, during after-school club meetings and so on. The story continues into the next week, and ascends to a surprising collision when several parties discover a lot more about themselves without the aid of their star classmate, and perhaps make significant changes to lead more meaningful lives.

“The Kirishima Thing,” which won the Japan Academy Prize for Picture of the Year, is based on a novel titled Kirishima Says He’s Going to Quit the Team, which won its author, Ryo Asai, the Subaru Prize for New Novelists when he was 20 years old.  The film version is a teen drama that excels in its honesty.  It doesn’t sugarcoat situations, nor it does it burst into song and dance, or show adolescents as constantly gregarious caricatures.  The introspective nature in many of these young actors’ outstanding performances reveals that what is left unsaid is at times more important than what is said, and that a fear of being negatively perceived can sometimes triumph over all.  The concept of existentialism plays into this movie very early on; when Kirishima’s girlfriend Risa (Mizuki Yamamoto) passes her spare time wondering if he will return to school or when his best friend Hiroki (Masahiro Higashide) wonders when his phone will ring, it is a very direct reference to Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.

While the conclusion may be somewhat dissatisfying, “The Kirishima Thing” ultimately succeeds in becoming a thought-provoking piece that may make you ask similar questions about your own existence, regardless of age.

“The Kirishima Thing” won Best Editor honors at the 7th Asian Film Awards in Hong Kong.  It was also nominated for Best Newcomer and Best Screenwriter.