Wild Tour (Japan, 2018) [OAFF 2019]

Sho Miyake made waves with his 2012 sophomore feature Playback (2012), a time slip drama shot in monochrome which was officially screened at the 65th Locarno International Film Festival and won him international attention. Since then he has refused to conform to any one genre and dabbled in a myriad of projects with no common theme. 2014 saw him make the hip-hop documentary The Cockpit and that was followed by a 2017 period drama, The Courier. His most recent feature, the human drama And Your Bird Can Sing (2018), based on a novel by Yasushi Sato, was played at last year’s Tokyo International Film Festival and this year’s Berlinale. He has another film from 2018 and it goes somewhere else entirely as it combines a documentary about a scientific club with stories of first love.

From 2017-18, Sho Miyake took part in a residency at the Yamaguchi Centre for Art and Media (YCAM) and produced the video installation work World Tour which was a video diary shot on smartphone by Miyake and edited together with images recorded by YCAM staff and non-professional collaborators. He builds on this for the fiction film Wild Tour which was, again, made in collaboration with the YCAM team and local students, all non-professional actors.

There is a plot linking everything together and it follows college freshman Ume Nakazono (Honoka Ito) who joins YCAM to take part as a facilitator in a workshop called “Field Guide to the DNA of Yamaguchi”. The workshop participants are mostly high schoolers like Shun and his friend Take who are led by senior scientists and volunteers like Ume and her ex-boyfriend Yamazaki. Groups seek to document the flora native to Yamaguchi by going out to various places such as mountains and beaches to collect plant samples and return to the centre to test DNA all while recording their experiences on smartphones and cameras. The narrative takes place over the course of a few months so, as the fauna blossoms, so do the relationships between people as some fall in and out of love.

Miyake’s approach is graceful in combining the documentary footage with the conventional romance narrative. As we accompany the students out on their expeditions and see the work going on in the labs, people and how people react to places are being recorded all of the time. There is a sense of youthful energy as the kids roam around the countryside and have fun under the watchful eye of Ume and Yamazaki who display a warmth and enthusiasm for what they do. The colour of their love for each other and where they live emerges over time.

Although non-professionals have taken the roles, how people feel about each other can be intuited through their acting which strikes a clear and believable note in what turns out to be a series of quietly bittersweet romantic dramas. Enthusiasm for documenting the word around them, capturing the samples of flora clinging on to pavements or on rocks on beaches, gives way to watching footage of someone else on the project to enjoy their reactions until the emotions cannot be held in check and a confession must be heard.

A lot of varying types of footage is woven together through the more conventional narrative into a coherent whole and it shows how people in contemporary society engage with media and each other through technology.

We see the world from the perspective of the characters as everything is recorded on smartphones and helmet-mounted cameras just as much as through more conventional cameras on tripods. This leads to changes in screen size such as when things are viewed through a microscope and techniques such as direct to camera interviews. The constant changes are easy to digest and replicate what audiences will be familiar with in the real world as we record and send videos and pictures in all sorts of ways. The more conventional camera work is saved for the plot’s through-line, which is used to show the characters talking about relationships and confessing love.

From this mixture sprouts an interesting adventure in the spread of information and Miyake seems to be pushing the limits of what film can achieve in telling a story as, while the youngsters have a myriad of takes on the world and different roiling thoughts and desires, these perspectives are shared via the internet as well as in-person and edited together via technology and emotion. It is easy to navigate as we hop between in this film and it is all brought together in a convincing whole as Miyake continues to dodge conformity. In all, we get a sense of a community and the people on this project, how the roots of technology bind people together and help our enjoyment of the world blossom in this small but interesting film where our fondness for characters and places builds steadily.

Wild Tour is showing on March 11 and 14 at the Osaka Asian Film Festival.