by Jason Suzuki
The hang-out movie, or at least the hang-out section, is having a resurgence as of late. With extended portions in mainstream Hollywood hits like The Conjuring 2 and Ouija: Origin of Evil where plot is not progressed and a little bit of character is fleshed out here and there, the scene of people just finding modest ways to pass the time is proving to be a desired tool for a filmmaker wishing to break away from the line between A and B, even if it's just for a minute or two. And while the above mentioned films are attempting to be throw-backs in their own way, matching the formal film techniques of the eras in which they are set, Nobuhiro Yamashita has been a master of allowing us to hang out with his characters for the entirety of the running time. His latest Over the Fence might just be the apex of this idea, despite having highly emotional outbursts from the lost souls he's captured in this film.
Sure it can be argued that Yamashita's Tamako in Moratorium, an early film in Atsuko Maeda's eventual domination of film in her post-AKB48 career, is the true exemplar in the director's brand of meandering. While it most certainly would make for a great choice in the sloth category for the seven deadly sins on film, it was still structured out over the course of a year. In Over the Fence time drifts just as these characters are drifting through lives. Everyone is in the wake of major internal crises and find the best way to live is to just let their current situations wash over them. The only real indicator of time passing we have is the approaching softball game Shiraiwa (Joe Odagiri) and his fellow vocational school classmates are mandated to participate in.
Recently divorced, Odagiri plays Shiraiwa with the sense that despite being his decision, the separation from his wife child was not wanted. He spends his time casually drinking beer in his small shack. His indifference on locking his home up speaks to where he's at this time in his life. His architecture class is filled with similar drifters who have settled in. A collection of souls who are there to collect unemployment or couldn't get into the preferred engineering class. A classmate (Kazuhisa Daishima) drags him to a club where he recognizes the bird calls of one of the hostess'. Shiraishi had seen Satoshi (Yu Aoi) before, acting like an ostrich in the middle of the street and here she is showcasing mating dances and other bird behaviors for her clients. Despite the different sensibility of manners, the two are drawn to each other, kindred spirits inching closer.
This isn't your typical romance, and even calling it a romance would be to stretch the term and potentially cloud expectations. In any other film Satoshi (she has a boy's name) would be your Eastern variant of the manic pixie dream girl. But the relationship of miniature gestures she forms with Shiraishi challenges both of them on much deeper levels than being too reserved or going through the motions, the more typical ailments a quirky gal is written to be a cure for. Outbursts are made and occasionally people dissolve into tears but these are temporary climaxes of all this bottling and to Yamashita's credit it would never merit 'melodramatic' as an accurate descriptor.
There is a push and pull between Shiraishi and Satoshi, and it's not always sunshine and late night beer runs. The film's pacing matches the uncertainty these characters have towards how to approach the future or the moment-to-moment. We later see Satoshi's other job: running the kiddie rides at the zoo. There's a reason for her knowledge of bird sounds and behaviors but it adds to the mystery as to why this resonates with her so - most likely it's the caged nature of these animals.
The script comes from a Yasushi Sato short story, adapted by Ryo Takada who earlier this year provided the script (also an adaptation) for Mipo O's Being Good. The connection that forms between these works is a quest to present interactions human but never over-the-top, and troubles real with no easy answers. Most of these characters don't feel the need to wear their emotions any more than they already are. When a smile appears it's genuine and much deserved when it transfers to the audience. And just as with Being Good it's the effort that's special not the result, even if the title gives away Shiraishi's turn at bat.
FUN FACT: Shinya Tsukamoto has a voice only cameo in this film.
Jason Suzuki is co-editor of Cinema Adrift.