by Lawrence Garcia Film

Jeux de plage | Aimi Natsuto

July 21, 2019

Jeux de plage, the debut feature from Japanese director Aimi Natsuto, is a film that’s more than eager to engage with the greats of French cinema. “07:30 Week End” reads its opening title card — a bit of scene-setting that doubles as a reference to Godard’s 1967 masterwork, which is just the first of the many titles Natsuto name-drops across her film’s slight, 77-minute runtime. Somewhat distracting, these titles are ultimately less significant than the milieu that the film occupies. Set in Japan’s Shonan region, over the course of a single day, Jeux de plage (“beach games”) unfolds as a sexual roundelay between the houseguests of a beachside mansion — a motley bunch who arrive in anticipation of some sort of party, and who are all vaguely connected to a woman named Miwako (never seen), and a university film course.

There’s a trio of female friends, one of whom has a crush on the other; a musician who has a gig at a nearby restaurant; a couple of college-age Korean students, one of whom is taking the aforementioned class; and the student’s hapless professor, who’s first seen waking up in the villa’s empty swimming pool after a drunken night. As in the work of Hong Sang-soo, there’s a continual emphasis on punishing caddish male behavior, though certain out-of-left-field details (e.g. a female character unexpectedly pissing in a hallway) are less easily explained. The much-awaited party, though, never arrives, and neither does the film — which is partly by design. Although Jeux de plage has a set-up that would be at home in one of Rohmer’s summer outings, it takes place in late spring, and this seasonal shift alters the expected rhythms — though in this case the film mostly just moves like farce in which none of the farcical elements come off. Scene by scene, Natsuto attempts to subvert expectations, but too often stops short at limp suggestion.

Published as part of Japan Cuts 2019 | Dispatch 1.