Toronto Japanese Film Festival 2021: Our Review of ‘Kontora’

Toronto Japanese Film Festival 2021: Our Review of ‘Kontora’

Kontora takes forty whole minutes to set up its premise but all those minutes are worth it. It also takes up the same time to set up the conflicts between those characters. One of those conflicts is between two cousins (Taichi Yamada and Takuzo Shimizu), the latter offering to buy the former’s house after the former’s father passed away. The former is a father to Sora (Wan Marui), who herself is dealing with her grandfather’s death through drinking lots of alcohol. She also forms strange bonds, one with her cousin Haru (Seira Kojima) and with a man who walks backwards.

Most films would just put two characters together, one egging on another character to have a conflict with the third. Or maybe say something that make the other character turn against them. There’s a share of that here, especially when the two older cousins are together. But mostly, this film just observes these character by themselves, as they figure out that the thing or character they’re taking for granted can easily disappear. Viewers can see these characters thinking and, importantly, feeling. The film’s choice to filter its visuals through black and white reinforces that mix of urgency and melancholy.

Kontora also follows the trend in moving away from the over fetishized depiction of Asian and especially Japanese women. Its version of a Japanese woman or a girl is tougher, those characters have rich back stories with them. That toughness makes all the more precious when characters like Sora smiles. And had the film had a different director and writer, those filmmakers would have strengthened the bond between Sora and her father. And sure, there are moments of that here. But the film’s interest lie on more complex trajectories, exploring the interior of a girl stuck in the past.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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