OUT OF COMPETITION
Way of Life
生きているのはひまつぶし (Ikiteiru no wa Himatsubushi)
Japan, 2023, 87’, Japanese
Directed by: Watanabe Hirobumi
Screenplay: Watanabe Hirobumi
Photography (color): Watanabe Hirobumi
Editing: Watanabe Hirobumi
Music: Watanabe Yuji
Producers: Watanabe Hirobumi, Watanabe Yuji, Watanabe Hideki, Watanabe Akemi
Cast: Watanabe Hirobumi, Watanabe Yuji, Bang Woohyun, Watanabe Hideki, Watanabe Akemi. Hisatsugu Riko, Yanagi Asuna, Kurosaki Takanori, Iso Kiyotaka, Watanabe Yuichiro
Date of First Release in Territory: TBA
At the height of the pandemic, few Japanese films (or for that matter, few films anywhere) being made then took notice of it. One reason is that films typically have a long lag between scripting and shooting, especially when they are based on manga and other pre-existing properties, as so many Japanese commercial films are: The characters may look current, but the stories can date back years or even decades.
Also, filming a pandemic-themed drama that is both visually and emotionally involving is not easy, especially if the characters are mumbling through masks and socially distancing instead of fighting or embracing.
That did not stop director Watanabe Hirobumi from making Way of Life, a docu-drama about his life at the height of pandemic in 2020, when he and millions of others in Japan were essentially confined to their homes, though the Japanese government never imposed a strict lockdown with penalties for violators,
The film begins with an unseen radio broadcasting news about the pandemic, and Watanabe in his room, chatting on the phone with his Korean cinematographer Bang Woohyun and painting picture after picture on identical rectangles of paper on a variety of subjects, from Godzilla and Ultraman to cowboys and smiling young girls, in styles inspired by everyone from Basquiat to Munch, though a playful sensibility uniquely Watanabe serves as a throughline.
The film captures the mood of many at the pandemic’s height, when ordinary routines were disrupted and every day seemed to blend into the next. And like many who opted to learn new skills or pursue old hobbies instead of binging on Netflix, Watanabe reveals hitherto unknown sides of his creativity and personality, though his mix of Japanese and foreign influences can also be seen in his films. The latest example is Techno Brothers, a musical comedy also screening at the 25th Udine FEFF, which channels The Blues Brothers and Aki Kaurismäki’s Leningrad Cowboys Go America.
He has filmed the scenes in his room in his signature black-and-white, interspersed with color shots of him finishing painting after painting while a catchy melody from Schubert (Moments Musicaux, Op. 94, D. 780: No. 3 in F Minor, Allegro moderato) plays again and again. (The film’s score, including original compositions, is supplied by Watanabe’s brother Yuji.) Soon the walls of his room are covered with his artwork, as his parents and friends drop in to look and comment.
If this were all Way of Life would be little more than a funny, offbeat and unexpectedly energizing home movie, But in the film’s last act Watanabe finally leaves the safety and tedium of his room for the shooting of a new film, Techno Brothers.
Once again we get a glimpse into his creative processes as he directs and acts in one of the film’s key scenes. Those who have seen Watanabe’s seven previous features, beginning with And the Mud Ship Sails Away… (2013), may get the impression from their naturalistic performances, many by friends and relatives from his hometown of Otawara in rural Tochigi Prefecture, that he prefers improvised freedom over scripted order.
But in shooting and reshooting the scene, until he gets exactly the effect he is looking for, we see Watanabe the meticulous comedy craftsman, as both director and actor. Is he still just killing time? In own view, maybe, but in Way of Life he is also making one-of-a-kind cinematic entertainment and his own brand of pop art.
BIO & FILMOGRAPHY: see Techno Brothers