This 2015 film is this year’s Japanese entry for the Oscar’s best foreign film. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know that each country could only nominate one film each. I was under the (perhaps naive) impression that they made some kind of effort to watch a decent amount and then make up their own minds.
Japan’s recent Oscar performance hasn’t been great, with only two nominations in the last thirty years (although one of those, Departures, actually won the Best Foreign Film Oscar) and I wonder if this is the film to break through the wall of indifference that the Oscar Academy usually shows.
The story is about a slacker, Ichiko Saita – played expertly by Ando Sakura – who is still NEET (No Education, Employment or Training) in her thirties. She finally gets a job in a convenience store, falls in love with a boxer and takes up the sport, desperate for a professional fight.
It’s a rights-of-passage film for a woman with zero self-esteem. Which is odd, when the people she meets and works with all seem far more dysfunctional than she is. Her wants and needs are positively mundane in comparison. Her desire for a normal relationship with the emotionally immobile boxer is almost heart-breaking in its futility.
It’s a comedy, but a very dark one and don’t be surprised if you find yourself wondering exactly when a scene went from humour to bleak realism. And, being a boxing film, there is the obligatory training montage.
In this film, boxing becomes a metaphor for the life that has pummelled Ichiko Saito into a nervous lump. Ichiko clearly wants to get beaten up, just so she can hug her opponent afterwards and it’s okay. An option that’s not available to her in real life.
It’s smart, affecting and emotional. I do wonder if it’s Academy material, though. However, with this film and 0.5mm, I would hope for a Best Actress nod for Ando Sakura. Or is that too naive, even by my standards?