Random Call (Japan, 2022) [OAFF 2022]

We may live in an interconnected world with many ways of easily reaching out to each other but the demands of careers and life in general mean we often seek others only when there is something specific that we want and sometimes we lose contact altogether. How does one maintain a genuine human bond?

This is a question that Hungarian-American writer and director Riki Ohkanda’s addresses in her feature Random Call. Using a little drama and some heart-warming comedy found in a failing actor’s adventures in reconnecting with friends and acquaintances in Tokyo, she offers an answer to the atomisation that we profoundly feel in an age of separation.

Main protagonist Ryo Kinugawa (Tensho Shibuya), may once have trod the boards as the lead in Shakespearean plays like Hamlet but such striking success happened ten years prior. His career, once so full of potential, has stalled and now the wrong side of 30, he stubbornly struggles on but fails to get even supporting roles in dramas. He seems to be at an impasse and the few people who remain by his side tell him to quit but he is reluctant end his dream. 

Out of the blue, old friend Shintaro (Shin Adachi) gives Ryo a call and asks for a coffee-shop meet-up. This is when Shintaro introduces Ryo to a social experiment called “Random Call,” the idea of which is for a person to call every single contact in their address book and physically meet them.

Intrigued, albeit a little skeptical, Ryo hits up his contacts. Whoever they are and no matter how painful a meeting may be, as there are many people he has taken for granted as he has dedicated his life to acting, Ryo invites them for a drink. The more he meets others, the more he finds his life is enriched with career opportunities and support but there are more important things he learns along the way.

The film is based on a story by Ohkanda that she had hoped to pitch to a network as a drama but turned into a film herself after a discussion with key collaborators at a drinking party convinced her to shoot her own script. With a budget of just $700, three days of shooting, and four film crew with actors and locations drawn from her day-to-day life, what she delivers is an assured work that embodies the soul of her story, both in how it was made and also the delivery of its ideas through good writing.

The idea of reconnecting with others is shown through a series of well-written vignettes based on meetings between Ryo and various people, each of whom imparts a life lesson or a detail for growth shared between all characters. A cynical producer appreciates simply going out for drinks and keeps Ryo in mind for roles, while a writer, who mirrors Ryo by putting on airs, learns to keep honing his craft until he gets a career break. By the end, the film has built a picture of a community forming around Ryo.

What stops Ryo’s actions from feeling like a self-serving exercise is that while these social links end up being mutually beneficial for all involved career-wise, it all persistently revolves around appreciating people as individuals. Reinforcing this is a subplot running beneath Ryo’s meetings that involves a friend named Mie (movingly played by Ako), a talented dancer fallen on hard times due to being taken for granted by someone close to her. Mie’s story of learning to get back into her art helps Ryo learn how to temper his career ambitions and takes him from an aloof actor assiduously sticking to his craft at the expense of others to a more well-rounded individual who can step aside to allow others to take centre stage.

All of this character growth is easy to slip into thanks to delightful observational comedy brought by Ohkanda’s sharp eye for character moments and the performers who play their roles vividly. At the centre of things is Shibuya who perfectly plays off his natural charm and looks to hold attention. He has an ability to arch his eyebrows in ways that allow him to switch between conceited and caring at the drop of a hat, while conveying Ryo’s arc of learning humility and renewing social bonds with considerable skill.

As a result of persuasive acting and strong writing that illustrates the concept of the strengthening human ties, Random Call becomes an inspirational and uplifting film that will warm the hearts of audiences wherever it is screened. 

Random Call was shown at the Osaka Asian Film Festival on March 15 and 19.