Minori, on the Brink
t.l. Minori, al limite
Japan, 2019, 130’, Japanese
Directed by: Ninomiya Ryutaro
Script: Ninomiya Ryutaro
Photography (color): Shinomiya Hidetoshi
Producer: Ishibashi Koji
Production Company: Enbu Seminar
Cast: Hagiwara Minori, Ito Keitoku, Terabayashi Koutatsu, Hirose Yuki, Dote Rieko
Date of First Release in Territory: September 30th, 2019
Premiere status: Italian Premiere
The Japanese, it’s often remarked, try to avoid the sort of extreme, in-your-face confrontation more common in the West. A road rage incident became national news here recently because its violence – one party punching the other in the face through an open car window – seemed so rare.
What then to make of Minori (Hagiwara Minori), the laser-eyed protagonist of Ninomiya Ryutaro’s film Minori, on the Brink? Early on, we are introduced to two louche guys, Kei (Ito Keitoku) and Chihiro (Terabayashi Koutatsu), chatting about a recent konpa (mixer), as their chubby blonde acquaintance, Hirose (Hirose Yuki), listens. Two girls show up – and one, Minori, is steaming mad over Kei’s sexist behavior towards her nervously smiling friend Rieko (Dote Rieko) at the konpa. She kicks him, he pushes her and she shouts out “rape.” We are, we realize, not in another Japanese film where women stoically endure abuse from men.
Scripted by Ninomiya and produced by Enbu Seminar, the acting and directing school that also made the horror-comedy smash One Cut of the Dead, Minori, on the Brink might be Japan’s first film of the #MeToo era, reflecting the part of the movement that is vocally and fearlessly fed up with male privilege. (The part that is publicly exposing and suing famous and powerful men is beyond even the formidable Minori.)
And yet, Minori is no lone feminist warrior, ever fierce in her outrage. She is close friends with the nonconfrontational, perpetually apologetic Rieko. And, at age 21, she is a high school graduate living with her easygoing grandmother and working as a server in a cute cafe-cum-ramen-shop in Kamakura. She is, in many ways, ordinary.
Where does the anger come from? One cause: Men are constantly hitting on her – and she has become beyond annoyed with the unwanted attention. But she has not sworn off men entirely. When a co-worker, Moe (Ueda Moe), asks her for her type, she says, enigmatically, “Guys who look lonely.”
As the film moves episodically along, with storylines that involve Minori little or not at all, we start to see a larger theme: the lack of meaning or purpose in young adult lives. Many of the characters, Minori included, are drifting through the days and some, like children, commit mischief – or worse – out of boredom. This does not always make for riveting viewing with some scenes being little more than actors’ workshop exercises. (The film, in fact, emerged from an Enbu workshop for aspiring actors.)
But Minori’s intensity draws attention the way a magnet attracts filings, even when she is politely, if pointedly, quizzing a friendly shop regular about his work (professional pachinko player) and family (wife and young daughter).
And her raw honesty can ignite explosions. When a would-be suitor professes his love for her on the street, her blunt response (“I just wanted to have sex”) drives him to name-calling fury. “Apologize,” she says, her own anger more than matching his. And I wanted to cheer.
There is more to newcomer Hagiwara’s performance than eyes that could drill through steel (or reduce sexist men to sputtering rage). She also brings out the character’s softer, less certain side without diminishing her power: Her Minori is all of a triumphant piece.
Born in 1986 in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, Ninomiya Ryutaro made his directorial feature debut in 2012 with The Charm of Others in 2012, which won the runner-up prize at the Pia Film Festival. This drama about a group of factory workers was screened widely abroad, including the Vancouver and Rotterdam festivals. He acted in the films of others before scripting, directing and playing the lead in Sweating the Small Stuff, a 2017 drama centering on a quiet man who works in an auto repair shop Minori, on the Brink (2019) is his third film as a director.
2012 – The Charm of Others
2017 – Sweating the Small Stuff
2019 – Minori, on the Brink