Dir. Daihachi Yoshida | Japan 2012 | 103:00 | Japanese with English subtitles
November 6, 2013 | 8:30 PM EST | AGO Jackman Hall (Toronto)
When the popular volleyball star, Kirishima, withdraws from the team as well as his high school, his absence amplifies the undercurrents of social and romantic tension within the various school clubs and cliques.
The Kirishima Thing is Daihachi Yoshida‘s fourth film and though it is based on (the very young) Ryo Asai’s 2010 novel Kirishima, Bukatsu Yamerutteyo, another clear antecedent for the film might as be Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot as well, since for half of the high school students, they are waiting for Kirishima’s arrival throughout the entire film.
The film’s unique narrative structure focuses on characters from different rungs of the high school hierarchy of clique cliches through a series of connecting narratives. An action, comment, or even glance connects each vignette to each other – given that most of the film’s location is based around the high school, the pretty, popular mean girls inevitably brush against the band geeks; the jocks run into (sometimes, literally) the much beleaguered film club. Kirishima’s continued absence is at the centre of these revolving narratives.
Even though the whole cast gives great performaces, Ai Hashimoto is especially compelling as Kasumi, the quiet and shy badminton player whose seemingly oblivious demeanor belies her calculated coyness. Whenever Hashimoto is onscreen, even if her character does not have a line (and that is quite often), she captures your attention with the slightest of movements: a shake of her bangs, a steady gaze, or a dismissive chuckle.
It’s the culmination of small gestures and moments that makes this film’s elegant narrative tricks effective, emphasizing its quiet, cerebral tone. Yoshida brings a sombre, realistic portrayal of high school to the screen, with subdued emotions from the actors and a subtle depiction of the social cruelty of clubs and cliques.
Of all the high school dramadies that I have seen, The Kirishima Thing portrays an experience much closer to the one that I remember, with less obsession over sex and romantic hyperboles (actually, there is one sequence that is Buffyesque in its romantic overstatement). Instead, the film shows the quieter, but no less awkward, moments on the pursuit of unrequited crushes and the devastation of their lack of resolution or recognition, and the emerging questions around the utility and fragility of the aspirations and desires we habour for ourselves in high school.