In Spotlight, we shine a light on upcoming, underappreciated or obscure filmmakers by taking a closer look at their filmography. This week, we explore the films of Japanese director Yoshihiro Nakamura.
I remember sitting down to watch Yoshihiro Nakamura’s The Foreign Duck, the Native Duck and God in a Coin Locker and not being overtly thrilled about it. The Japanese have a habit of making annoying, quirky comedies and it’s a genre of which I’m not a fan; so when I took one look at this pompous title I thought I knew what I was getting into. But what transpired was something unexpected. I was gripped by the central mystery, I laughed at its witty dialogue and I found myself deeply moved, not once, but twice. I was completely won over, and I knew I needed to find out what else this director had in his locker.
The next Nakamura I watched was Fish Story, which is his only picture to date to have a Rotten Tomatoes rating. Spanning several decades, Fish Story tells the bizarre tale of how a 1970s punk rock band inadvertently saved the world from destruction in 2012. The film, told through a series of seemingly unconnected stories, is charmingly playful and when it finally ties all the plot strands together, it does so in an audaciously exhilarating way.
It was some time later before I watched See You Tomorrow, Everyone, which tells the bittersweet story of a young man who refuses to leave the safety of his apartment complex after a trauma suffered in his early life. Like in his previous work, this stars Gaku Hamada who portrays the lead character from schoolboy to adulthood in amazingly convincing fashion.
It is The Foreign Duck, the Native Duck and God in a Coin Locker that is still his standout work, however. The story about a college freshman and his complicated friendship with his mysterious new neighbour, bolsters fantastic performances from all the cast and has a plot which is both gripping and unpredictable. Even having watched the movie several times since, the blend of comedy, mystery and drama still works masterfully together – and the ending is satisfyingly poignant.
Nakamura constructs his plotlines like complicated puzzle pieces – often jumping back and forth in time and reality. Non-linear narratives can often seem convoluted and unnecessary, but for him it feels completely natural. The most impressive aspect of his filmmaking, however, is his ability to convey emotional weight. Unlike many of his nation’s contemporaries, he values characters over style, which seems lost in much of Japanese cinema today. Global recognition awaits Nakamura, he just needs a great festival hit to get it; and when he gets it, I can smugly say I spotted him first.