Malaysia-born, Osaka-based director, and self-described “cinema drifter” Kah Wai Lim has previously made films in his native Malaysia, Hong Kong, Osaka, Croatia, and Slovenia, quietly building one of the most interesting and eclectic filmographies in world cinema. Come and Go, his eighth feature, is his most thematically ambitious production to date, the third film of a projected tetralogy set in Osaka, which includes his previous films New World (2011) and Fly Me to Minami (2013). It’s a sprawling, lengthy (158 minutes), Altman-esque dramedy following the fortunes of several pan-Asian characters as they struggle to make their way in this exciting and beautiful, yet often indifferent and cruel metropolis. Stylistically, it’s far more conventional than his Hong Kong-set 2010 film, the haunting, boldly experimental, and criminally under-seen Magic and Loss, but Come and Go remains perfectly in line with the cosmopolitan, piercingly observant nature of the rest of his work.
The film’s large cast of characters include: Mimi (Nang Tracy), a Burmese student working two part-time jobs to pay her way through school, increasingly worn out from her labors and from having to constantly fend off her sexually aggressive boss’s advances; Mimi’s Vietnamese co-worker Nam (Lien Binh Phat), who wants to go back to Vietnam to be with his sick mother, but is forced to remain due to his onerous work contract preventing him from leaving the country; Nepali refugee Mousam (Mousam Gurung), who dreams of opening his own restaurant in Osaka; and a Malaysian traveling businessman (JC Chee) who’s pitching a project offering halal foods to Muslim immigrants. A number of other characters revolve around the bustling local porn and sex work industry: a Korean-Japanese hustler/entrepreneur/sort-of pimp (Lee Kwang-soo) who brings along a quartet of Korean starlets, named April, May, June, and July; a naïve, withdrawn homeless young Japanese woman (Manami Usumaru) who’s scouted for a porn shoot and later ends up in a hostess nightclub; a Taiwanese porn enthusiast and sex tourist (Tsai Ming-liang muse Lee Kang-sheng) who’s there to meet his favorite Japanese AV actress.
These intertwined character studies are lightly tied together by chance interactions between them, as well as by floating TV news reports of the grisly discovery of an elderly woman’s skeleton in an apartment (apparently based on a real-life story). A detective investigating the case (Seiji Chihara), and his bored, neglected wife (Makiko Watanabe), also figure into the film’s narrative. Lim, who also wrote and edited, deftly juggles the many personalities and social issues he takes on, and very skillfully modulates the pacing, making this very long film a breeze to watch, nicely balancing the comedic and serious elements of his stories. The title perfectly encapsulates the drifting, transient nature of the characters and their interactions, and Lim sensitively portrays their longing for more solidly stable existences. He closes the film with an image of blooming cherry blossoms, which would come across as a horribly hackneyed cliché in lesser hands, but which Lim transforms into a movingly poignant yet hopeful final grace note.
Published as part of Japan Cuts 2021 — Dispatch 2.