Far East Film Festival 20

Udine Italy April 20th/ April 28th 2018
The Film Festival For Popular Asian Cinema
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
Saturday, April 22, time 7.45 PM

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Satoshi: A Move for Tomorrow

Shogi is a Japanese variant of chess that has been played in its present form since the 16th Century and has evolved at its highest levels into a professional sport, with seven annual tournaments that determine not only titles, but also prestige and income in the wider world. A top shogi player like Habu Yoshiharu, who became a pro at age 14 in 1985 and has won 82 major titles to date, can become a well-off celebrity, if not quite a world-beating rock star.

So why does Satoshi: A Move for Tomorrow, the rare film set in the shogi world, focus on a real-life player who died at age 29 in 1998 and reached shogi’s highest rank, 9th dan, only posthumously?
Matsuyama Kenichi’s career-peak performance as the title character makes clear why with every scene: Murayama Satoshi had both genius and charisma – and defied his tragic fate to the end.

Afflicted with a rare disease called nephrotic syndrome as a child, he spent much of his short life battling illness, culminating with the bladder cancer that finally killed him. But he hated being defined by his fragile health, pushing himself repeatedly to the physical and mental limit in his assaults on the heights of shogi, with the summit being his arch-rival, Habu. (In their lifetime tournament matches Habu won seven and Murayama, six.)
Murayama also drank and ate to excess, in complete disregard of doctors’ orders. And when he was diagnosed with bladder cancer at age 27 he refused treatment that might prolong his life, arguing that it would interfere with his play.

The film, which premiered at last year’s Tokyo International Film Festival, makes no attempt to idealize or sentimentalize Murayama. As played by Matsuyama (who gained 26 kilograms for the role), Murayama is an over-weight, unkempt prodigy who has little use for social niceties or even basic housekeeping. (His tiny Tokyo apartment looks as though as typhoon had hit it.)
Despite his nerdy appearance, Murayama has the glittery-eyed intensity and focus of a world-class competitor, which gives his matches an electric charge, even for those (like this writer) who know little or nothing about the game.  
The plot revolves around Murayama’s rivalry with Habu (Higashide Masahiro). It begins with Murayama’s bitter defeat – and motivates his decision to move from Western Japan, where he was born and raised, to Tokyo, the center of the shogi world. His parents are worried, for good reason, about his health, but Nobuo Mori (Lily Franky), Murayama’s avuncular mentor, supports his ambition.
 
Once in Tokyo, Murayama quickly wins the respect of his fellow shogi players, who are stunned by his unorthodox style of play. Several become his friends and followers, though he is hardly the most clubbable type. But above all looms Habu, who is as cool and collected as Murayama is intuitive and impulsive. Then comes the cancer diagnosis, but rather than discard his dreams, Murayama resolves to give his all in whatever time he has remaining.
Can he beat the reigning champion, whose genius is the equal of his own, before his illness beats him? The answer is moving, inspiring and surprisingly exciting. Shogi, with Murayama and Habu making the moves, is the mental equivalent of cage fighting, with the gloves off.
Mark Schilling
Film director: 
Mori Yoshitaka
Year: 
2016
Running time: 
123

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