Italian Premiere | In Competition


Guest stars:
TODA Akihiro, director
MITO Taishi, producer


In Toda Akihiro’s Ichiko Sugisaki Hana delivers a career-peak performance as the title character, an inscrutable woman whose entire life becomes a deception. But non-Japanese viewers may be confused by a key plot point: How Japan’s family register system leaves Ichiko a non-person.

Based on Toda’s award-winning 2015 play, this episodically told, enigmatic film does briefly explain why she finds herself in this predicament, which may be enough for Japanese viewers.

To be brief, Ichiko’s 1987 birth in Osaka was within 300 days of her mother Natsumi’s divorce from an abusive husband, making him Ichiko’s “official” father according Japan’s family register system. Anxious to keep the ex out of their lives, Natsumi (Nakamura Yuri) did not register Ichiko’s birth, meaning that as an adult she would live on the social margins, unable to get a health insurance card or find regular employment.

As of 2017, according to a Ministry of Justice survey, there were about 1,500 unregistered Japanese, though the actual number was believed to be far higher. Ichiko, however, is not a drama about this social problem. It is closer in spirit to the Kurosawa Akira classic Rashomon, with acquaintances, friends and lovers relating their various versions of Ichiko, from girlhood on, to the impassive Detective Goto (the always reliable Uno Shohei), investigating her disappearance following a proposal of marriage from her livein boyfriend, Hasegawa Yoshinori (Wakaba Ryuya).

We soon realize she did not just have second thoughts about marrying this earnest, uninquisitive man with whom she spent three blissful years. As Goto tells a shocked Yoshinori, “Ichiko doesn’t exist.” Wind back to 2000, when Ichiko was a girl named Tsukiko, living in a squalid public housing apartment with Natsumi and her volatile boyfriend Masao (Watanabe Daichi).

She confides to a new friend that her real name is Ichiko, but doesn’t have time to explain before the friend, a proper middle-class girl, beats a hasty retreat from the apartment – and Masao, who is angered by her presence. What’s his problem? Wind forward to 2008, when Tsukiko (Sugisaki) is a teenager with a punkish boyfriend (Kura Yuki) who is frustrated by her seeming coldness. But when she suddenly drags him behind a building to thrust his hand between her legs, he is startled. What’s wrong with her? Less put off is Kita Hidekazu (Morinaga Yuki), a high school classmate who befriends Tsukiko but wants to be something more. Then he happens upon a scene that illuminates her disturbing hidden life and is forever changed.

Toda, who co-wrote the script, is not out to assign innocence or guilt. Ichiko is neither a trampled angel nor a heartless devil. By fate and dark deed, she sees herself as apart from the general run of humanity, exiled from ordinary happiness.

As played by Sugisaki Hana, recognized as an extraordinary talent since her days as a child actor, Ichiko is quiet but watchful, happy to be loved, but wary of revealing her truth. It is a performance riveting and haunting, all of a piece and one of a kind. Even though Ichiko herself remains a riddle wrapped up in an enigma.

Mark Schilling
Film director: TODA Akihiro
Year: 2023
Running time: 125'
Country: Japan
02/05 - 4:55 PM
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
02-05-2024 16:55 02-05-2024 19:00Europe/Rome Ichiko Far East Film Festival Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da UdineCEC Udine cec@cecudine.org