Photo: Japan Cuts
by Daniel Gorman Film

Roar | Ryo Katayama

July 21, 2020

Roar begins with a vertiginously disorienting prologue, as a manic handheld camera frantically searches a room before pushing into an extreme close-up of a frightened, tearful young face. The camera then quickly pivots to a first-person POV, and characters begin addressing it directly. Hurried whip pans become flashforwards, painting a dysfunctional family portrait and ending in what appears to be either an assault or murder. The camera mostly settles down after this auspicious beginning, as we follow Makoto (Ryo Anraku) and his parents, the characters glimpsed in the prologue. The violent perpetrator in the film’s opening scene is Makoto’s older brother, who is never seen, and his crime has shattered the familial unit. Soon, Makoto’s father has hung himself, and Makoto flees his mother, wandering the streets in a fugue state. Eventually he meets a silent vagrant, played by writer/director Ryo Katayama, and the two form a kind of odd, almost brotherly bond, as Makoto discovers that his new companion beats up strangers for money. The film also follows a radio talk show host, Hiromi (Mie Ota), who, despite having an affair with her boss, is also searching for a more profound relationship. 

Despite some initial interest, mostly thanks to the sheer oddity of its opening, Roar quickly becomes tedious. It’s all intentionally, annoyingly vague, and Katayama parcels out narrative information in either elliptical suggestions or not at all. Katayama cuts artlessly between the film’s parallel plots, alternating moments of generic ennui and brutal beatings with scenes of Hiromi going on dates with a new beau. Katayama also introduces a third storyline, a brief interlude involving a friend of Hiromi and her invalid father. Ultimately, these various threads intersect with artless obviousness. Katayama seems to be trying to make a point about societal violence and how it relates to both romantic and familial relationships, but it’s all so opaque as to be useless. By the time the film limps to its inconclusive ending, offensively equating a woman defending herself from sexual assault with Makoro’s simmering, impotent rage finally manifesting in a violent outburst, it’s become clear that Katayama has a lot of ideas but no sense of how to organize or explicate them in any meaningful way.

Published as part of Japan Cuts 2020 – Dispatch 1.