Elaiza Ikeda, a Filipino-Japanese actress and fashion model, marks her directorial debut with the feature Town Without Sea, part of the line-up of North America’s largest festival of contemporary Japanese cinema: Japan Cuts.
The story is set in Tagawa, within the Fukuoka Prefecture, and describes the coming-of-age of a shy teenager, who is at a crossroads wondering what happiness means. The narrative brings into prominence family, friendship and coy infatuations, through the eyes of a high school hikikomori. Sho (Yuki Kura), looks up to his best friend Taiga (Roy Ishiuchi), with whom he is part of the local taiko troupe drumming in their hometown’s festival. The two young boys meet the quirky and mysterious Miyako (Nari Saito), whose guitar-toting spirit will unsettle the young boys unexpectedly. Sho is allowed to freely navigate his experience of the world by his mother (Kiki Sugino) and father (Kenichi Abe), who represent a very open-minded family. In fact, when Sho’s grandfather (Lily Franky) suggests to his grandson that he will find the happiness he seeks when he sees one chimney overlapping with another, Sho sets off on a journey of discovery across the former coal mining town.
Town Without Sea, that was also selected at the Jeonju International Film Festival and Shanghai International Film Festival, delves into the essence of boyhood: the search for identity. In doing so, the film flaunts a remarkable cinematography by Takahiro Imai, that reflects the psychology of colour in film; pink hues evoke the innocence of youth, green brings into prominence the path to self-awareness, red symbolises adolescent agitation, yellow brings enlightenment forth, blue prompts the much coveted harmony and stability of the protagonist.
The film starts with a good paced drum roll (literally!), but loses that pace along the way, throughout a diluted depiction of the habitual platitudes of idle boys on the cusp of adulthood. As the motion picture progresses, the cliche pubescence themes are conveyed in a scattered and unoriginal way.
Nevertheless, Ikeda demonstrates impressive dexterity with camera shots and sense of staging, also thanks to the the production design of Shintarô Matsumoto — that provides a whimsical flair, almost as if it were a work of video art. The screenplay by Yûko Shimoda is very simple and straightforward, and does not provide new insight to the cinematic genre that portrays youngsters transitioning into adulthood. However director Ikeda, provides subtle philosophical touches, that could have been further expanded. An example is when Sho reads Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Émile, that serves as an allegory to his personal educational quest in finding his place in the world, as well as when he is reading Eudaemonics to acknowledge the art of acquiring happiness. Town Without Sea ultimately shows us how bliss is not universal, but personal. Happiness may be found in simple things after all. Perhaps in the act of munching some paprika pickles.
Final Grade: B/C