Hiroshi Okuyama’s debut feature, Jesus, displays impressive technical mastery; besides writing and directing, the filmmaker served as cinematographer and editor. The academy ratio framing, combined with Okuyama’s frequent placing of his actors at a far distance, makes for a fascinating visual dynamic. Jesus is a religious parable, of sorts, but one that’s highly irreverent, if not downright sacrilegious. This is reflected in the original Japanese title, which translates to “I Hate Jesus.” The central figure here, Yura (Yura Sato), is a taciturn and introverted nine-year-old boy who hides behind thick bangs that just about cover his eyes. His family has moved from Tokyo to a snowy rural town, living with his grandmother after the recent death of the grandfather. Yura’s enrolled in a Christian school, despite the family having no sort of discernible religious faith; this choice of school seems solely made on the basis of its close proximity to their home.
Yura initially feels isolated, and bewildered, by the religious teachings and rituals he’s introduced to. When he tries prayer for the first time, a tiny version of Jesus Christ appears before him, a figure only he can see. Jesus never speaks, but is extremely animated, at one point riding a rubber duckie in Yura’s bath like a cowboy on his horse. Yura doesn’t treat Jesus as a figure of religious devotion so much as a wish granting genie, asking for some money and a friend at school, both of which he gets in short order. But when a tragic event occurs, Yura’s newfound sort-of faith is sorely tested. Slightly weakening the film’s impact is the fact that, even at 76 minutes, it feels padded; it would’ve been a stronger short. However, the engaging, wry humor — and the understated yet potent surrealism — makes this only a minor flaw in an otherwise beautifully crafted work.
Published as part of Japan Cuts 2019 | Dispatch 2.