“The Projects” (“Danchi”) – 2016 Japan Cuts Film Review

An elderly couple who has recently moved into a nondescript Osaka public housing complex soon learns that its residents, and visitors, are not what they seem in “The Projects” (“Danchi,” 団地), an offbeat gem directed and written by Junji Sakamoto.  Hinako (Naomi Fujiyama) and Seiji (Ittoku Kishibe) almost immediately become targets of gossip from the projects’ insulated neighbors who wonder why they have moved to their half-occupied compound and receive visits from a mysterious visitor (Takumi Saito).  The couple, in turn, is equally suspicious of their nosy neighbors, who are collectively much more imperceptive than they are.  The whispers rise to open chatter after Seiji disappears following his loss in an election to determine the next head of the tenants’ association.

Once this happens, this tale following a bunch of eccentrics doesn’t turn into a murder mystery or a whodunit.  It instead becomes a surprisingly meditative work on loss and the afterlife, with a bit of extraterrestrial flair tossed in for good measure.  The world may point fingers at Hinako and Seiji, their opinions based only on what they see, but they don’t seem to care very much; they’re too wrapped up in their own two-person cocoon to care what this community within a community thinks.  As such, “The Projects” is really about how an aging couple must cope with grief, and how they must break out of their doldrums to find life again.

The North American premiere of “The Projects” (“Danchi”) screens at the 2016 Japan Cuts Film Festival on Tues., July 19, at 6:30 p.m.