Making a Powerful Impression
Remember that person you knew as a kid who was so totally different? So out there – such a nutter. Some residue sticks with you even now. Perhaps that person influenced what you like, what you find funny or who you are today. Maybe you need to think hard to make the connection. Or maybe it’s like yesterday. But the impact is real.
For Yuji, Sasaki is that person. And through the charming and emotive Sasaki In My Mind we learn how he had such an effect.
Yuji is a not-gotten-very-far actor who finds himself a little stuck. Instead of landing his big break, he’s packing soap into tiny boxes and then packing the small boxes into bigger boxes. Still living with an ex-girlfriend, instead of talking he stares at the space between their separate beds. A fellow actor nudges him to start work on a play but he’s not really connecting with it, riding the edge like with everything.
He runs into Tada, a friend from school who immediately susses his circumstances. Yuji avoids challenge. He confirms he doesn’t like to lose, even as he gets into a fight in a bar. Tada reminds him – that’s just like Sasaki.
It seems like there are two types of crazy friend. The one with all his/her needs taken care of and who can do anything without a care in the world. And the one who’s already got nothing – as they say, a kite without a string. The distinction may be circumstance but the intent – that’s what makes the outcome. Picture the space between Steff and Duckie – yes, I’m referencing high school classic Pretty in Pink here – some people are not set up to win.
Through the course of the action, you land the realisation that it’s not just Sasaki who evolves others but that they affect him as well. And as high school boys, maybe not in the best way they could – a little too much reality here or encouraging the outrageous there.
From the promo, expectations were ‘perhaps a bit like K-movie The Happy Life,’ where a bunch of unfulfilled 40-somethings are inspired to resurrect their school rock band. There is a bit of that nostalgia here but it’s a very different tale.
Told partly in flashback, the story is easy to follow and easier to get sucked in. Instead of ‘drama’ it’s packed with human emotion and puzzle pieces that click into place. There’s a gorgeous shift in attitude that happens under the surface but rises in the denouement.
Winner of the Kaneto Shindo Silver Award in 2020, and nominee for a number of other film festivals this year including Japan Cuts: Festival of New Film, Tokyo International Film Festival and Nippon Connection Japanese Film Festival, Sasaki In My Mind is getting some attention and will hopefully receive a wider distribution.
Written, edited and directed by 29-year-old Takuya Uchiyama, it’s his second full length feature film after his award-winning movie Vanitas. Notably, the budget was largely crowd-funded, providing complete control of the process. In an interview with Tokion.jp, Director Uchiyama notes that a lot of people helped make this film happen. Clearly a ‘Gleek’ at heart, he shares an inspiring message to supporters: ‘it’s okay to be uncool or awkward and even if your life is hard, it’s not a mistake.’ Uchiyama studied as a stylist but thankfully swapped to directing as he’s clearly got an instinct for storytelling and some notions to share.
Interestingly, Gaku Hosokawa – co-writer and the actor who plays Sasaki – was inspired by the memory of a school friend to create this story. He brought the idea to Uchiyama and they worked on the script together over the course of a year plus. Hosokawa, looking incredibly different, also appears in 2021 movie Love as well as We Can’t Walk and The Hungry Lion.
Lead actor, Kisetsu Fujiwara, plays Yuji but you may recognise him from the Japanese movie Silence or horror/comedy Lychee Light Club and several others. He’s clearly been quite busy as he appears in six additional movies and three dramas this year.
The combination of camera angles paired with music at just the right level mirrors the action. Whilst the lighting, true to life, is bright in some places and shaded in others, pointing or comforting as needed. And the cast are so believable. You’ll walk out feeling that you know them.
Easily missed, the title itself flirts with the idea that this is Yuji’s version of Sasaki and he can use that memory, retelling the the tale as he likes. And in that way, reconnect with himself to keep the story alive.
The 2021 London East Asia Film Festival runs from Oct 21-31. For screening information on more fantastic movies from across East Asia, see the LEAFF programme here. Click here to see more movies reviewed as part of this festival.
Verdict - 9.5/10