I’m Really Good
t.l. Sono proprio brava
わたしは元気 (Watashiwa Genki)
Japan, 2020, 62’, Japanese
Directed by: Watanabe Hirobumi
Script: Watanabe Hirobumi
Photography (color/b&w): Watanabe Hirobumi
Editing: Watanabe Hirobumi
Music: Watanabe Yuji
Producers: Watanabe Akemi, Watanabe Hideki
Executive Producers: Watanabe Hirobumi, Watanabe Yuji
Production Company: Foolish Piggies Films
Cast: Watanabe Hirobumi, Hisatsugu Riko, Sudo Nanaka, Hisatsugu Keita
Date of First Release in Territory: TBA
Premiere status: World Premiere
Watanabe Hirobumi’s I’m Really Good is both his latest film – Udine FEFF is hosting the world premiere – and his first to focus on children. His heroine, Riko, is a girl in the fourth-grade of elementary school who has an older brother, Keita, and a best friend, Nanaka. All three are played by amateurs under their own names and all three give little to no impression of acting. It’s as if Watanabe, though credited as scriptwriter, let them improvise most or all of their lines.
One comparison is Kore-eda Hirokazu who drew widely praised performances from child actors in such films as Nobody Knows and I Wish. But where Kore-eda aimed for high drama, Watanabe makes true-to-life comedy out of ordinary kids and everyday reality.
As usual, there’s not much in the way of a plot. The film tracks a day in Riko’s life, beginning and ending in her bedroom, with stuffed animals arrayed around her. But similar to Poolside Man, Watanabe’s 2016 film about a disturbed loner obsessed with news from the Middle East, as Riko gets ready for school we heard by do not see a broadcast of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo being questioned in Parliament about Japan’s broken pension system – a motif that appears again later in the story. In other words, the film suggests fissures behind the calm surface of middle-class life.
Much of the time, however, we are simply observing Riko and Nanaka doing typical kid things: Kicking a soccer ball, playing a word game, or critiquing the school lunch menu as they march briskly down the road. The tight, fluid black-and-white photography, with Watanabe himself handling the camera, makes even a walk to school feel, if not momentous, somehow significant, which to the girls it undoubtedly is.
This feeling is underscored by the wind howling over the empty, rolling landscape, as well as by the simple, plaintive piano theme of Watanabe Yuji, the director’s younger brother and the composer for all his films. Watching Riko stride down a path between the rice paddies, the camera following her from behind, it’s easy to imagine she not just returning a drill book to her friend, but on some sort of mission.
Much of this visual subtext is funny, however. When Riko discovers that Nanaka is not home, she goes back the way she came in the exactly the same sequence of shots, if reversed, the sort of sight gag that might have occurred to that other master of comic understatement, Buster Keaton.
Watanabe himself supplies the biggest laughs as Jinguji Kamekichi, a motor-mouthed door-to-door salesman who tries to hawk textbooks to Riko when he finds her home alone. He is about to close a sale, when she tells him her absent dad is a cop. Instantly dropping his sales pitch, he pledges her to silence and beats a hasty retreat. Riko’s report to her brother Keita: “He was just lying.”
Playing the heroine, Watanabe regular Hisatsugu Riko is a pint-sized dynamo. In the film’s first scene, filmed in color (a first for Watanabe), she performs a sort of comic rap for the camera with an energy that bursts from the frame – and she keeps it up, if not at the same live-wired level, straight to the end.
Unlike the usual Japanese film with child characters, in which the action is adult-centered and the kids are so much set decoration, I’m Really Good keeps them in the foreground, doing and saying what kids do and say anywhere. The cultural barriers in this charming film are not even one-inch high.
Born in 1982 in Otawara, Tochigi Prefecture, Watanabe Hirobumi majored in Japanese literature in college and, after graduation, entered Japan Academy of Moving Images. His graduation project, the 41-minute film The Light Pig of August (Hachigatsu no Karui Buta), won the Grand Prix at the Fuji Film Lovers Festa, as well as other honors.
In 2013 he teamed with his brother Yuji, a film composer, to launch Foolish Piggies Films in his native Otawara. Their first production was also Watanabe’s first feature film, And the Mud Ship Sails Away... The film premiered at the 26th Tokyo International Film Festival and was screened widely abroad. It was released theatrically in Japan in December of 2014.
His second film, 7 Days, won the Best Picture prize in the Japanese Cinema Splash section of the 28th Tokyo International Film Festival. It was invited to many other festivals, winning the Nippon Vision Jury Award at the 17th Nippon Connection festival. After that Watanabe released at least one film a year, always with Watanabe Yuji as composer and Bang Woo-hyun as cinematographer.
But on his most recent film, I’m Really Good (2020), Watanabe served as his own cameraman. It is also his first feature in which his grandmother, who died last year at age 102, does not appear. After nearly a decade of consistency, with many of the same people behind and in front of the camera, Watanabe’s career seems to be reaching a turning point.
2013 – And the Mud Ship Sails Away...
2015 – 7 Days
2016 – Poolside Man
2018 – Party ‘Round the Globe
2018 – Life Finds a Way
2019 – Cry
2020 – Kamata Prelude (segment)
2020 – I’m Really Good