Set in the small coastal town of Oiso, Takuya Misawa’s sophomore feature is a crisp, withholding tale of pent-up aggression and toxic masculine friendship. A small crew of young men in matching bomber jackets gamble, smoke, and drink together in a garage, nominally employed by a corrupt construction company. We’re introduced to shaggy-haired Eita (Shugo Nagashima), who is indebted in some way to the ringleader, Kazuya (Yusaku Mori), and whose girlfriend, Saki (Ena Koshino), is a source of tension for the group. Throughout the film, bodies are found and family secrets are revealed – though in Misawa’s controlled hand, what would otherwise be considered major plot points are greeted with impassive shrugs. Meanwhile, frequent shots of verdant gingko leaves, radiating sunshine, and breaking waves bear witness to everything that’s concealed from the audience. Characters frequently chat, but little in the way of actual communication seems to happen. The camera turns away the moment before a confession or immediately after a vital discovery, leaving the audience perpetually on edge. All films are interpretive exercises, but this one reads more like a trick question, with scenes assigned meaning that’s tantalizingly out of reach.
There’s a sense that Misawa is enjoying the freedom of throwing ideas against the wall to see what sticks. In the course of 79 minutes, The Murders of Oiso employs several abrupt tonal shifts against a vaguely western musical score; a nonlinear narrative that occasionally dabbles in metafiction; and gentle shots of nature and innocuous small-town dross that heighten the encroaching dread. Happily, this experimentation also leads to a couple of standout shots, particularly the journey of an empty liquor bottle that rolls to a stop down a tunnel, eventually becoming the weapon in a seemingly random attack. Despite this cinematic flair, narrative questions linger, even as the film skips forward in time a few years. Kazuya, wearing a sharp pinstriped suit, again gives money to Eita and Saki, who are shown with an infant child. What has happened in the intervening years that these men are still in the same town, with old power dynamics still intact? If Misawa knows, he’s just as content to let us guess.
Published as part of Japan Cuts 2020 – Dispatch 1.