- Original title
- Japanese title
- Running time
- 108 minutes
- 18 September 2012
by Tom Mes
Filament is a film that tries hard to fit the mould of the edgy Japanese indie. Within the first five minutes we are treated to a bleached-haired layabout quitting his job in an eatery by beating up his employer, a walk along deserted train tracks, and said layabout’s dysfunctional family consisting of a cross-dressing father who prostitutes himself on street corners and a simple-minded daughter who sleepwalks on the rooftop and can’t find a husband.
All this is so much along the ley lines of a late-1990s Takashi Miike film that it can only suffer from the comparison. Director Jinsei Tsuji is also a novelist and singer, and while it is certainly not exceptional for contemporary Japanese artists to straddle multiple disciplines, one wonders whether the opportunities they were given to branch out wasn’t merely due to their possessing a degree of fame and media presence rather than actual talent for the field they subsequently ventured into.
As a novelist, Tsuji has won a string of Japan’s most important literary prizes. I have not read any of novels, but having once seen him perform some songs in a bar in Paris, I can at least conclude that he is better at cranking a camera than strumming a guitar. This, however, is primarily a relative conclusion and not an endorsement of the film under review here. It becomes clear in the first scene that Tsuji is no Miike, despite or rather because of the similarity with the kitchen-set opening scene of the latter’s Graveyard of Honour. Tsuji shows us protagonist Kyota (Osawa, too old for the part) told off and humiliated by his employer in front a full house of diners, but after an effective build-up he chickens out: Tsuji takes his camera into the street and lets sound effects suggest the bust-up. Restraint is one thing, a lack of guts is quite another.
Filament does little more than flirt with prescribed “edgy” subject matter: juvenile delinquency and yakuza harassment are both portrayed through silly stock prototypes in scenes stolen from better movies, and, yes, there is indeed a suggestion of incest thrown in for good measure. The presence of such scenes makes it clear that restraint is not what Tsuji is after. Yet, he chickens out at every occasion to show his mettle. Kyota runs around beating up oyaji like he mistook this for a Tsukamoto or Toyoda film, but he naturally proves to be a big softie at heart who wants to protect his simpleton of a sister against the evils of this world – evils that finally become no more threatening than the persistent spectre a no-good, but still love-struck ex. The only thing that tends toward disturbing here is the streak of dumb misogyny with which the two female characters of any importance are depicted.
Filament is available to Western (to be precise: North American) viewers via the online rental venture JapanFlix, which otherwise offers, understandably, mostly genre fare of the action, horror and pink varieties. This company forms a promising model of legitimate digital film distribution for the niche fare that Japanese cinema remains in our neck of the woods. One assumes, though, that Filament was part of a package deal, because it can hardly have been the quality of the film that made it seem like a potentially profitable title. If edgy indies are what JapanFlix is after, there are far better candidates out there.