North Shinjuku 2055 (Japan, 2022) [OAFF 2022]

Daisuke Miyazaki is an exciting filmmaker to follow because his work not only genuinely reflects the concerns of younger generations but is often unpredictable in style. His refreshingly different approach to various topics is illustrated by the contrasts between his recent feature films. Yamato (California) (2016) is a coming-of-age story showing the influence of hip-hop on a young woman struggling to find her voice; Tourism (2017) presents a candy-coloured Singapore-set quirky travelogue experienced partly by smartphones; and the tech/porn-induced existential nightmare of Videophobia (2019) is shot in chilling monochrome. His latest effort, the short film North Shinjuku 2055, is again unexpected in that adapts a speculative sci-fi story wherein the future reality of the titular Tokyo territory is brought to life via a discussion and a unique visual approach. 

We listen in on an interview between an investigative journalist (Tatsuya Nagayama) and a North Shinjuku kingpin given the moniker K (played by the rapper GAMI, the writer of the original story). The journalist is eager to discover how and why North Shinjuku grew culturally and politically distant from the rest of the capital and country and K has the answers. 

Their initially amicable interview soon turns into a duel via conversation. The journalist displays muckraking tendencies with accusatory thrusts of the area being crime-ridden and hostile to outsiders, while K’s verbal ripostes provide a deep cut of the area’s close-knit community and its dealings with external forces of society, from government to corporations and gangsters.

The flow of conversation between the two interweaves history stretching back centuries, immigration, yakuza turf wars, and current social trends viewers will recognize. From this rich source of material, themes of politics, class, and xenophobia are broached. The final result is a broad social vision of North Shinjuku as a chaotic place made up of marginalized people, all of whom are bonded together by their resistance to capital and discrimination and also a certain type of street justice. 

With so much dialogue flying back-and-forth, it helps that the deep and measured tones of GAMI’s street scholar and the more insistent counterpoint of the journalist with an agenda are easy to listen to. Their conversation is accompanied by sound effects drawn from the surrounding city environment. Sirens wailing, the rhythmic bump of passing trains, and snatches of music spice up what we see. Where the film totally departs from the expected is in the images. 

Visually, the film is told almost entirely via a variety of black-and-white still photographs of the two speakers during their tête-à-tête. The copious photographic portraits are complimented by especially evocative shots of Shinjuku’s urban landscape and those who dwell in it. This still photography style, drawn from images that Miyazaki shot over a year, is reminiscent of Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962), only Miyazaki’s film is more exciting as the lively ebb and flow of the discussion between two distinctively different idealogues dictates the speed and subject of the images, of which there are a myriad, rather than the repetition seen in Marker’s work.

The subjects of the photographs are compellingly composed. Sometimes they aren’t always in focus as there is motion blur when they are carrying out the actions that the narrators are talking about, whether criminal activities or living their everyday lives, and the characters just look plain fascinating. Each person reflects a sort of hip-hop style that appears to be the milieu that writer/actor/rapper GAMI comes from. The photographs themselves are sometimes damaged, which adds to the character of the material, while the black-and-white look links contemporary photos with what looks to be actual historical photographs of districts in Tokyo. It’s a nice touch which creates a chain of continuity from the past to this imagined future.

Overall, this is an engaging vision of a future Tokyo where the cultural and socio-political dimensions of our present-day reality are convincingly expanded upon. This is a hip-hop-influenced science-fiction future that deviates from what one might expect thanks to the film’s audio and visual styles, which stir the imagination. Beyond the style, the ingenuity and depth of the content convincingly takes the viewer into another world, one that is sure to make the imagination race due to an abundance of originality.

North Shinjuku 2055 was shown at the Osaka Asian Film Festival on March 11 and March 16.