Life Finds a Way
t.l. La vita trova la sua strada
普通は走り出す (Futsu wa Hashirimasu)
Japan, 2018, 127’, Japanese
Directed by: Watanabe Hirobumi
Script: Watanabe Hirobumi
Photography (b&w): Bang Woohyun
Editing: Watanabe Hirobumi
Music: Watanabe Yuji
Executive Producers: Watanabe Hirobumi, Watanabe Yuji
Production Company: Foolish Piggies Films
Cast: Watanabe Hirobumi, Kurosaki Takanori, Matsumoto Marika, Hagiwara Minori, Koga Yako, Kato Sakiko, Honoka, Nagai Chihiro, Tsukui Tomio, Hisatsugu Riko
Date of First Release in Territory: November 17th, 2018
Sooner or later all artists hit a creative speed bump or dead end. And Watanabe Hirobumi is no exception – or is he? In the semi-autobiographical Life Finds a Way he stars as a director, also named Watanabe, who is struggling to write a script and raise money for his next project. The film combines self-deprecating humor and stylistic invention in ways funny and thought provoking, with one thought being that over-thinking the whys and wherefores of filmmaking leads to paralysis for the filmmaker, if laughs for the audience.
Similar to several of his other films, starting with the 2016 Poolside Man, Watanabe spends much screen time in a car ranting to a silent driver. This time the willing ear belongs to the bespectacled, unflappable Kurosaki (Kurosaki Takanori), Watanabe’s assistant director and childhood friend. And once again Watanabe the character seems to be expressing the real views of his creator, if with fewer inhibitions or filters. He compares crowdfunding to begging and laments how shady operators use it to scam money from naïve fans, but the next words out of his mouth are “Do you know who could fund me?”
He tries to find an answer at the city hall of Otawara, the small city in Tochigi Prefecture that is home to the real-life Watanabe. Accompanied by Kurosaki, Watanabe walks into a meeting with the town’s mayor wearing sunglasses, presumably to give himself that glamorous show biz look. But his request for money is met with stony silence by the mayor, if gales of laughter from his female secretary.
All this is funny, if painfully familiar to many an indie filmmaker in Japan and elsewhere. But Watanabe is not only after laughs; he is also a stylist and a surrealist who finds the bizarre in the everyday, somewhat like a Japanese David Lynch. As his doppelganger director moves through his daily round, we see repeated motifs that range from the unexpectedly beautiful to the strange and unsettling.
For one, almost everyone Watanabe encounters in the course of that round is of the female sex, from his aged grandmother, who sits mute and uncomplaining as he lolls about the house they share, to a little girl (Hisatsugu Riko) he goes fishing with. Most, however, are attractive young women, including the server at his favorite coffee shop, the usher at his favorite movie theater, the dentist who probes his decayed tooth over his squirming protests, the librarian who repeatedly scolds him for laughing too loudly, and the doctor who sternly warns him his poor lifestyle choices will lead to an early grave.
These encounters are more comic than not, but beginning with letter from a female film fan saying (in a narrator’s dulcet tones) that Watanabe is a terrible director, the women deliver their frank opinions on films and filmmakers straight to the camera – and they are not always music to Watanabe’s ears.
Providing counterpoint is Triple Fire, a Japanese post-punk band whose aphoristic lyrics (“The uglier you are, the kinder you are” and “God watches everything”) and slashing electronic sounds make a good fit with the real Watanabe’s world view. But most of the film’s score is, as always, provided by Watanabe’s younger brother Yuji, including the classical warhorses that somehow make the on-screen action feel frozen in time, as the wind howls over the empty fields. And the fictional Watanabe, with the camera following doggedly behind, plods on to his next adventure.
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