Kentaro Kishi is a multi-hyphenate talent who works as a writer, director, cinematographer and actor. His efforts stretch across genres, from splatter movies like Tokyo Gore Police (2008) and The Machine Girl (2008) to indie dramas The Sower (2016), Noise and Passage of Life (2017). As a director, his credits include Record Future (2011) and Hammock, the latter of which played at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020 where it won the Housen Short Film Award. Here, Kishi takes on many roles and recruits his family to create an intimate 30-minute short drawing on the different perceptions in their relationship to examine how the act of looking can reinforce the connections between people.
It begins with Momoko (Naoko Ema) returning to a seaside town in Japan for Obon. She hopes to reunite with her daughter Kanae (Kanae Kishi) after a long absence. The place Momoko travels to is the family home of her dead husband Kentaro (Kentaro Kishi) since Kanae was left in the care of his mother Kaworu (Kaworu Kishi). Momoko is not alone as she has arrived with an American man, Adam (Philippe Aymard), and his son Joseph (Hugo Minaki). She hopes Kanae will depart with them to live in the US but the little girl is resistant.
Overcoming this resistance forms the surface tension of the film as different layers of disconnection between characters are displayed. Momoko’s absence from Kanae’s life can be felt in the emotional and physical distance Kanae shows her mother, something that stands out especially when contrasted with the intimacy Kanae shares with Kaworu. Cultural gaps are found between with Adam and Joseph, the latter’s use of the titular hammock, which was made by Kentaro, proving to be a provocation to Kanae. And who can blame the girl for not wanting to leave with veritable strangers? It seems like an intractable situation but what breaks her resistance is the act of looking and understanding. Despite little Kanae’s attempts to maintain her distance, a gradual connection to the adults is formed thanks to their constant attention and sensitivity. Adam’s humor is especially important in breaking barriers to create an opening for mother and daughter to connect after so long apart but also important is acknowledging Kentaro’s absence, a deep weight that is felt by the characters even if they don’t get to acknowledge it.
It feels as if Kentaro’s loss has not really been confronted in this family, especially Kanae who may have been too young to have known him well, but during the days we spend with them, through old pictures and memories, we share their acknowledgement of him. Intercut throughout the drama are montages of home movie footage and still photographs shot in Japan and the Middle East. His spirit is felt in these ephemeral moments as we get moments of his perspective and gaze on others. There is the sense that someone never truly dies so long as we remember them and this act of remembrance by the characters becomes a vital bridge for them to understand each other. It comes at the most appropriate time, during Obon, a festival for the dead, so when a spiritual aspect emerges, Kishi handles it sensitively to provide a perfect denouement.
We experience this process of looking and understanding through the camerawork which makes us feel like we are eavesdropping on a family and slowly climbing out of a painful. We peer through windows, doorways and curtains at scenes, we take on various character’s perspectives that gaze upon others, and we are allowed to explore old family photographs and movies. There is also the motif of looking which is constantly reinforced by the many cameras that are found and used throughout the environment.
What really makes the film hit home is the sense of genuine feeling. That Kishi plays a version of himself and draws upon the presence of his own daughter, mother, history and family home makes the emotions all the more authentic. The performances are all believably and moving with Philippe Aymard, a professional actor and clown, particularly well cast. His jovial nature and sensitivity is the fulcrum for fine good performances from Naoko Ema and Kanae Kishi as they navigate difficult emotional moments. A special mention should go to Kaworu Kishi whose sadness really tinges some pivotal dramatic scenes as her character is given time to air her feelings over her loss.
At 30 minutes, this is a universal story that doesn’t waste a moment in its exploration of these well-realized human connections.
Hammock was shown at the Osaka Asian Film Festival on March 10 and 14.