by Chris Mello Film

The Projects | Junji Sakamoto

July 21, 2016

Set in low-income housing and offering glimpses into the hardships of the working class—the central couple’s son was killed by an overworked truck driver—Junji Sakamoto’s comedy The Projects lightly gestures towards class commentary, but a convoluted structure and a last-minute shift towards science fiction deaden what might otherwise be a lively, meaningful film. Having lost both their only son and their herbal remedy business, the elderly Yamashitas retreat into an Osaka housing project inhabited by a close-knit community of gossipy neighbors. When Seiji Yamashita (Ittoku Kishibe) goes missing, those neighbors are quick to cast suspicion upon his wife, Hanako (Naomi Fujiyama). Through repeated use of expository flashbacks, Sakamoto clues us into what the neighbors don’t know is happening within the Yamashita’s apartment.

The film works best when exploiting this comedic irony, as it does during a tenant meeting in which the would-be detectives bicker around a table, all framed in one well-staged, static shot. But moments like this are few and far between, as The Projects spends too much of its time in flashback, explaining a joke it rarely gets around to telling. Even the bizarre twist can’t escape the deadweight of exposition, as the last 20 minutes offer little more than an explanation to a surprise happy ending.

Published as part of Japan Cuts 2016 | Dispatch 2.