HomeReviewsThe Murders of Oiso (Japan/Hong Kong/South Korea, 2019) [OAFF 2020]
The Murders of Oiso (Japan/Hong Kong/South Korea, 2019) [OAFF 2020]
23 March, 2020
The Murders of Oiso was honored with the Japan Cuts Award at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020. It is the sophomore feature from director Takuya Misawa who made waves with his 2015 debut Chigasaki Story. He returns with a slice-of-life film shot with a Hong Kong crew that uses a cut-up narrative and noirish atmosphere to examine the shadowy side of the titular town and its citizens.
Oiso is a quiet and pristine seaside town in Kanagawa, nestled
between a beautiful coastline and scenic countryside. The location is marked by
the colors of fall as the season unfolds under cold and clean sunlight with a
chill in the air. This is where the prime ministers of Japan retire to, a
pleasant place chosen by Misawa because it could be emblematic of Japan. Although
beautiful on the outside, hidden inside are various instances of small-scale
corruption as conducted by seemingly average people, thereby making life harder
Our window into this world comes through the strained
friendship between Tomoki (Haya
Nakazaki), Shun (Koji
Moriya), Kazuya (Yusaku
Mori), and Eita (Shugo
Nagashima). They have hung out together since childhood and this
connection has continued into adulthood as Kazuya’s uncle, their former
teacher, helped the four get jobs in the family construction firm. When he is
found dead, their relationship dynamics are disrupted, especially for Kazuya
who has to take on the mantle of running the construction company. In doing so,
he discovers that criminals are using it for their own gain.
This disruption is rich with moments of drama as secrets
emerge such as Ito’s secret wife Chisato (Natsuko Hori) being revealed. These breaks
from normal behavior create the catalyst for the characters to either fully
accept conforming to or rebelling against their positions in society as their
battle with their complicated history is revealed.
The central relationship between the four boys is a really
odd one as they act out roles that allow them to avoid directly confronting
problems in their lives. From the start, it is clear that a shared suffering of
being under the thumb of others and suffering abuse links them so that even in
instances of cowardice, cruelty and violence, they retain sympathy. Even Kazuya,
who acts like a bully to those around him, is sympathetic because he does so to
keep the protective circle around him. This realistic dichotomy of
contradictory behavior powers a constant tension in the film which spikes with
acts of criminality.
The list of sins will be familiar to the audience as they are culled from newspaper headlines. Illegal fly-tipping, bullying, elder abuse, sexual harassment and worse are touched upon but never shown as Misawa favors shooting scenes without showing everything. He withholds audio, cuts away to the reaction to the crime and uses visual or audio cues to clue the audience in to what has happened. Observant viewers will be able to tell how people regard each other from the actors’ blocking and movement or just recognizing someone who is spreading news having previously peered in on an argument.
Artful in audio and visual terms, the film’s descent into
criminality and death is presaged by an interesting use of camera angles and
editing to create a noir tone or to add a horror. Sometimes a flashback between
characters after someone picks up a specific prop is enough to set off an idea
of a menacing backstory so we understand why someone like Shun wants to break
away from the toxic situation.
This could be heavy handed in tackling social issues but
it isn’t. Nothing is ever directly shown because Takuya Misawa’s script is
loaded with techniques to create a space for the viewer to think about why the
characters behave the way they do. There are three different narrators
(including Misawa) who think back on memories or offer secondhand information.
As such, the narrative is told in a nonlinear fashion from different
perspectives and timelines to create a patchwork of crimes and misdemeanors. There
is an ambiguity to everything we see but everything is eventually connected in
a complicated web of relationships, creating a stifling sense of conformity and
control as everyone is implicated whether as bystanders, victims, accomplices
If there is any criticism it is that the indirectness sometimes leads to no clean resolution – what happens to Ito’s wife, Chisato? Furthermore, the demands on the viewer’s attention and the ambiguous rewards in story make the 76 minutes feel longer and unfocused than it actually is. Sometimes, though, life is like that and having a film that requires attention and addresses social issues is a good thing in a sea of simple entertainment.
Jason Maher is a UK-based film fan and freelance writer. He has combined the two to write about films at his blog Genkinahito as well as writing for Anime UK News the movie magazine Gigan. Having grown up watching films from Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong, he has developed a love for East Asian cinema and specialises in writing news articles, reviews, and has even been known to occasionally interview a director or two. He spends his private time learning Japanese, watching films, and hanging out with friends and family whom he bores with film trivia. He can be contacted via Twitter.