Rage Politely Against the Machine

The frustrated, flummoxed characters in Japanese wunderkind Yuya Ishii’s semi-absurdist comedies are typically running from something. It might be the boring confines of small-town life for the neon allure of Tokyo, or the cruelty of the big city for the low-stress provinces. In fact, they’re desperately rebelling — albeit with only minimal success — against the oppressive cultural weight of obeisance, loyalty, etiquette, and respect for (selfish) elders. The 27-year-old director’s hapless yet endearing protagonists eventually realize there’s nowhere to run: Japan is an island nation. To Walk Beside You (2009), receiving its U.S. premiere as part of the two-film series, “Lost in Japan: The Existential Comedies of Yuya Ishii,” imagines a teacher and a high school student fleeing for the capital and a new life together. Domesticity trumps passion, however, and reality gently crushes fantasy. It’s not as grim as all that; Ishii, like Hal Hartley, revels in the ironic humor of ordinary people bumping up against the daily humiliations of life. His most recent film, Sawako Decides (screening Sunday at 1 p.m.), finds him in a more optimistic mood. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that Ishii and the lead actress, Hikari Mitsushima (of Folder5 fame), got married a few months ago.
Jan. 13-16, 2011

 
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