Hiroshi Okuyama’s “Jesus” – 2019 Hong Kong Film Review

In his feature debut “Jesus,” Hiroshi Okuyama – playing the quadruple threat of director, cinematographer, editor and screenplay writer – shines a unique perspective on religion through the eyes of a child.  Yura Hoshino (played by Yura Sato) is an introverted but keenly observant urban transplant in a snowy small town, his family having taken up residence with his recently widowed grandmother. His new school is made doubly intimidating thanks to some unfamiliar customs: as a Christian institution, students lead elements of worship services, take in words of wisdom during sermons and participate in daily prayers with their teachers.

This situation leaves much to ponder for young Yura, who decides to see if the power of prayer really does grant wishes. He asks for a new friend, he gets one. He asks for money – even slightly backtracking on his materialistic request – and somehow manages to bag that. As Yura’s faith in its simplest of forms grows, his imagination runs with it in an accompanying pint-sized tabletop Jesus (played with delightful aplomb by Chad Mullane, an Australian comedian based in Tokyo), who amusingly hops and prances along the way.

Of course, at some point Yura discovers what all human beings eventually learn: not all prayers can be answered to one’s complete satisfaction. In fact, the opposite can occur.  Against the disquieting stillness of the countryside – juxtaposed with a soundtrack of choral hymns and the organ – Yura realizes that the answers to life don’t always result in positive outcomes, nor are they solved with a simple “yes” or “no.”

“Jesus” screens at the 2019 Hong Kong International Film Festival on Mar. 25 at 7:30 p.m., and Mar. 27 at 9:45 p.m.  Last fall, Okuyama, 22, became the youngest winner of the New Directors Award at the San Sebastian Film Festival.