Japan Cuts: Amiko, A Contemplative Tale About An Irrepressible Child

Japan Cuts: Amiko, A Contemplative Tale About An Irrepressible Child

Amiko is part of the 2023 JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film line-up, and marks Yusuke Morii’s directorial debut (the film is not to be confused with the one of the same title by Yôko Yamanaka).

Amiko Tanaka (Kana Osawa) is not like other children. She lives in a suburb of Hiroshima with her father (Arata Iura), pregnant mother (Machiko Ono) and her older brother. Amiko has an attention for details and fixates on her mother’s chin-mole and her brother’s bald spot. She takes a peek, through the fusuma (sliding doors), at her mother’s calligraphy courses, but never joins them. At school she walks into class barefoot and ignores lessons. She fearlessly proclaims her feelings of enamorment to her classmate Nori, who is annoyed to the point of hitting her. Even when tragedy hits her family, with the loss of a sibling, Amiko’s way of confronting grief troubles the entire family: her depressed mother finds her burdensome, her father wants a quiet life, her brother drifts away. Yet nothing seems to perturb this young free-spirited little girl.

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The film is based on Akutagawa Prize winner Natsuko Imamura’s 2010 debut novel, Atarashii Musume (New Daughter), winner of the Dazai Osamu Prize, the Mishima Yukio Prize, the Kawai Hayao Story Prize, and the Noma Literary New Face Prize. Yusuke Morii adapts the book, dismantling the conventions of coming-of-age tales. Usually these stories imply a character evolution, as challenges are overcome little by little through a process of maturing. This is not the case for Amiko, she stays true to her odd nature, despite every person around her is incapable of dealing with her. Everyone seems to abandon her sooner or later, but she endures by not giving up who she is. Amiko is an outsider and finds refuge in her imaginary world, made up of phantoms and quirky characters.

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Kana Osawa plays Amiko with effortless vigor, her facial expressions serve as a window into the character’s interesting mind. Arata Iura, brings a feeling of hopelessness to the character of the father, whilst Machiko Ono projects the mental illness of the mother with exceptional sensitivity. Also the cast of classmates conveys the ruthlessness of puberty, when bullying seems to be the easier option to get approval from the pack, as opposed to displaying compassion and sympathy.

The setting of Amiko is very beguiling, since the story takes place in an idyllic sea town, in a time period where there are no computers or smartphones, and is rather characterised by walkie-talkies and disposable cameras. The final scene of the film is a fine homage to the closing scene of The 400 Blows, celebrating all outcast children who find liberation by the seashore.

Ichiko Aoba’s soundtrack enhances the moments that alternate drama with comedy, through the coltish pianos and uncanny wind pipes. The music truly intensifies the unruliness of Amiko, that has a quality to her that resembles Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird. The character of Amiko is the personification of the current discomfort towards society.

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Her unbeaten spirit in the face of other people’s refusal is a great demonstration of resilience. 

Yusuke Morii doesn’t explicitly present a girl within the Spectrum, even though she might come across as one. The fact that she doesn’t fit into societal norms however labels her as “different.” Despite her young age she has an admirable strength in not giving in to gaslighting. Amiko continues to march to the beat of her own drum to the point of coming across as socially awkward, yet she never gives up her intellectual honesty.

Final Grade: B

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